I am of a different mind than many on Donald Trump’s viability in a general election. I actually think that should Trump attain the Republican nomination, the election would be his to lose.
The main reason I think that is because I think Hillary Clinton, assuming she is the Democratic nominee, is essentially at Peak Hillary with the voting public. That is, she’s a known quantity. You either love her or hate her. There is no middle ground. Those who are going to vote for her are locked in. If you haven’t been deterred by her corruption, incompetence, pathological lying, greed and bloodless ambition by now then nothing is likely to dissuade you. Similarly, she’s also well-known to independents, so anyone still skeptical of her at this point, is going to require a lot to pull the lever for her. And those who dislike her are not going to change their mind. I think that she has big problems getting more than 45% of the vote and likely much less — the diehard of the Democratic party. She doesn’t have much in the way of upside.
In comparison, Trump has a great deal of upside. Beyond the immigration issue, voters don’t know that much about him. His mission is to keep a Republican coalition, motivate Republican-leaning independents and not alienate others, at least to the point they vote for Hillary. That last point is very important and is what the election will hinge upon. If Trump behaves himself and doesn’t seem too scary to free-floating “Independent” women (ones that aren’t voting for Hillary out of sisterhood considerations), he should be in good shape.
He also may very well present some other Electoral College problems for Clinton. He could fracture some of the reliably Democrat northeast and put Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut and New York into play (forcing Clinton to expend resources in those states). He’ll almost certainly sweep the South and solidly Republican states of the Midwest and West. Does he help in blue collar parts of Ohio — enough to eliminate the huge Democrat advantage in Cuyahoga County (Cleveland area)? He might play well in Michigan too, disrupting another expected Democrat state. Be realistic, what Republican state would likely to defect to Hillary Clinton (or Bernie Sanders)? Admittedly some moderate and establishment Republicans might sit on their hands and not show up to vote but I think that by and large those will be in states where Republicans are strong to begin with and it won’t matter. Squishy Republicans in more moderate states (like Pennsylvania) might be outnumbered by Democrats defecting to Trump.
Here are some caveats.
Trump’s scorched Earth campaign style could seriously damage him with many Republicans — keeping some of the most reliable Republican foot soldiers and funders on the sidelines (Trump might self-fund but all those downticket candidates aren’t self-funding and they’ll be looking for support that might not be there if Trump has turned the campaign into a charnel house). Trump does not understand that a presidential election is about a lot more than the presidency. As bright as his smile is, if he doesn’t maintain the Republican army, he loses, no matter how many “other” voters and Democratic defectors he brings on.
He could blow it with a wacky vice presidential choice. I expect him to avoid any of his serious competitors — Cruz, Rubio, notably. He hasn’t shown the ability to tolerate anyone who might take any light away from him or stand on their own two feet. That might also eliminate Carly Fiorina and Chris Christie because the media might pay too much attention to them. He’s also done a lot of demonizing of his competitors, building ill will with their supporters. But politics does require some ability to let things slide off your back. Cruz and Rubio would seem to aid in more than intellectual firepower, they help deliver major states. However, Texas is already in the Republican category but Florida might benefit from a Rubio choice. Does Christie bring New Jersey over? Does Fiorina dent Hillary’s female support? If Hillary doesn’t win the female vote by 15+%, she almost certainly loses because the population of Hillary-voting Beta males isn’t that big.
I expect Trump to think outside the usual VP box. I doubt he’ll choose anyone with real gravity (takes away light from The Donald) so that probably takes out of play a number of current politicians. He could even look to the Democratic party in an attempt to coopt Hillary’s support and appear as a “national bipartisan candidate. I would not put it past him to offer the job to Bernie Sanders (though I doubt he’d take it). I’m thinking Trump will look for his version of Perot’s Adm. Stockdale (a truly good man but well past his prime, as he recognized). Trump could also go with someone who would be grateful to be back in the game — Rudy Giuliani or maybe grab a “Democrat” outer moon like Bob Kerrey.
No matter what Trump will likely make his VP choice one of the most scrutinized ever.
There’s a question as to how much influence the mainstream media could have in the upcoming election. So far the kid glove slaps they’ve made at Trump have not amounted to anything. But make no mistake, if he’s the nominee, starting 10 seconds after the nomination the greatest assault upon one human being in history will begin from the major newspapers, TV news operations, liberal advocacy groups, et al. It will be unlike anything ever seen before as the media and other Democratic operations try to slime and negatively define Trump in an effort to push Hillary Clinton into the White House. What was done to Sarah Palin will look like a peck on the cheek in retrospect.
One Trump weakness that has yet to fully manifest itself is, what does Trump believe in? What will a Trump presidency do? Beyond something about immigration, even his most fervent supporters are at a loss to say exactly what President Donald will do. As he begins to fill in the blanks, will he turn off supporters and dampen ardor? Is he the big government guy he looks to have been in the past? What about a $19 trillion deficit? What about a big government that seems to be at war with the citizenry? Does he really think Kelo was a good decision? He’s lived all of his life and done all of his business in big cities, does he have any clue to what western state Republicans are talking about when they complain about government control of land and resources? What about EPA overreach? What does he think of “Quantitative Easing”? Big Business subsidies such as ethanol and green energy pork barrel or cookie-pushing entities like the IMF? What about the Dept. of Education and its effective nationalizing of the student loan business? Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac? Obamacare? States and local rights or increasing Washington interference into every single aspect of our daily lives? Will he undo all those Executive Orders that King Barry I has lived by? There’s so much more yet Trump has been cagey on most of this by waging a campaign of invective — a negative campaign rather than a positive campaign.
Or can he run an Obamesque campaign and be a tabula rasa wherein supporters read into him what they want to hear?
The biggest threat to the Trump campaign’s success is Trump’s own mouth. How long before his egomania and big mouth finally wear out its welcome? Campaigns that burn so brightly burn out quicker. Trump has made few friends. At this point in the campaign that’s not yet a red flag, but soon he’s going to have to start reeling the rhetoric in — before he turns almost everyone into an enemy.
Politics is ultimately a team sport, something Trump does not seem to have learned. He will need dozens of friendly surrogates in the general election campaign since he can’t be at all places at all times. Who’s going to man the get-out-the-vote operations if you’ve pissed off much of the Republican establishment? Laugh all you want GOP establishment-hating Trumpsters, but if you want Trump, the Insult the Comic Dog, to be president, you’ll need state and county party operations to do the heavy lifting. Look what happened in Iowa with a Trump operation that many simply expected to work.
Obama played it brilliantly in 2008 by playing the team game and only becoming the self-centered lone-wolf we have in the White House now after he was inaugurated.
Trump’s mouth might also get him in trouble with “independent” voters. People often don’t mind if you insult the other guy but when you turn your mouth on something they hold dear… Independent women are notoriously fickle and often take an emotional approach to candidates. Looking/acting mean or angry can turn them off. And the approach will wear on all voters over the months. Trump Fatigue could set in before the election.
It could, amazingly enough, even allow Hillary Clinton to gain sympathy. We know how good the Clintons are at confusing the public and neutering opposition long enough to escape.