Donald Trump now has no remaining rivals for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination. As the party comes to terms with the news, three experts take the measure of his chances.
Republican meltdown, Democratic opportunity
Inderjeet Parmar, City University London
Donald Trump’s decisive victory in the Indiana primary election, coupled with the withdrawal of his principal rival, Ted Cruz, has made him the party’s presumptive presidential nominee. It has exposed a deeply divided Republican party whose leadership has lost all credibility and whose conservative philosophy, which it has held dear since 1980, is in tatters. The party’s very survival is now uncertain.
This near-apocalypse has been years in the making. The Tea Party insurgency has badly undermined both state and national party elites, driving the GOP further to the right and electing highly ideological congressmen and senators who refused to compromise with the Obama administration – not least Cruz, who defied the GOP leadership and forced the US government into a total shutdown in 2013.
But this collapse is also the fruit of decades of economic deterioration of the party’s white working-class voters, especially those without a college education. Compounded by the 2008 financial crisis, decades of deindustrialisation have left a legacy of unemployment, underemployment, falling living standards and expanding social and economic inequality. This has also hit middle-income Republicans hard. Many of them now support higher taxes on corporations and the very wealthy and back some kind of redistribution of income and wealth.
This is a rejection of the core principles of the Reaganite conservative consensus: low taxes, free markets, welfare cuts, laissez-faire government. Trump has also shown that social conservatism is not a prerequisite for victory in the GOP primaries, another blow to the party’s Reagan-era principles.
And so, is the GOP leadership left with no choice but to get behind Trump? There have been recent overtures. Some GOP stalwarts responded noticeably warmly to Trump’s first “serious” foreign policy speech, and Karl Rove’s well-funded campaign organisation has reportedly indicated that if necessary, it would back Trump against Hillary Clinton.
But Cruz’s verdict on Trump, which is shared by a majority of Republican voters, speaks to just how toxic the GOP’s presumptive nominee really is. “This man is a pathological liar, he doesn’t know the difference between truth and lies … in a pattern that is straight out of a psychology textbook, he accuses everyone of lying,” said Cruz on the threshold of the Indiana vote. “Whatever lie he’s telling, at that minute he believes it … the man is utterly amoral”.
The GOP civil war is unlikely to abate any time soon – and that’s a boon to Clinton. The big question now is whether Clinton can turn the other party’s crisis into the Democrats’ opportunity. She must now fashion a message that inspires and unites her party for the general election – even as Bernie Sanders, her flagging but still formidable opponent, continues to win states and vows to continue his campaign against the party’s establishment.
Trump won the battle: can he win the war?
Leighton Vaughan Williams, Nottingham Trent University
Donald Trump has been declared the Republican Party’s nominee for the presidency of the United States – and for once, not only by himself. This victory defies all the laws of political gravity.
The traditional Republican way is to elect the establishment’s chosen candidate, generally someone who has served the party faithfully and well – and preferably someone plausibly electable against the Democrats’ standard bearer. The nominee is expected to stick to mainstream conservative principles and to be broadly acceptable to those pulling the strings at Fox News.
Trump fails all these tests. And with his signature blend of populism, provocation and spectacle, he has driven the party into a schism, pitting conservative against conservative.
In the immediate wake of the Indiana result the audience of Fox news was treated to a downcast debate between the network’s two principal conservative voices, Bill O’Reilly and Charles Krauthammer. While O’Reilly tried to defend Trump as a misunderstood populist hero, Krauthammer declared himself implacably opposed to a man he declared was not a true conservative and who could not be trusted to defend conservative values.
The party shows no sign of being ready to unite behind Trump. The Hill, an influential political newspaper published in Washington DC, has even provided a list of Republicans who have declared on the record that they simply will not back him. The list is long, and includes some very influential conservative names.
These horrified “NeverTrumpers”, who’ve been pushing their own #NeverTrump hashtag, are all too aware that nominating “The Donald” would not only betray the party’s core principles, but possibly doom the GOP to electoral catastrophe. Disgusted conservatives might well decline to vote at all. That would contaminate Republican candidates across the country; the party would probably lose control of the Senate, and perhaps even of the House of Representatives.
So what exactly are Trump’s chances against Hillary Clinton? The Real Clear Politics average of the most recent half dozen polls has Clinton leading Trump by an average of 6.2% in a hypothetical (and now very likely) match-up.
Take out the poll by the Rasmussen firm, which has a very chequered history – not least projecting a Mitt Romney victory on the eve of the 2012 election – and Clinton leads by 7.8%.
The respected Sabato Crystal Ball project at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics offers another perspective. This uses expert judgement on a state-by-state level to assess the likely number of electoral votes that would be won in a match-up between Clinton and Trump.
The best estimate offered, as of today, is a projected 347 votes for Hillary Clinton in the electoral college, with 191 going to Donald Trump. A total of 270 votes is required to win the presidency. By way of comparison, Barack Obama won 332 electoral votes in 2012 to 206 for Mitt Romney.
The betting and prediction markets tell a broadly similar tale.
Finally, let’s look to the PollyVote project, which combines evidence derived from polls, expert judgement and prediction markets, plus a few other indicators, to provide an overall forecast of the likely outcome in November. As of today, the PollyVote predicts the Democrats to obtain 53.3% of the two-party popular vote, compared to 46.7% for the Republicans.
Trump stands today at the top of the Republican tree. He has won the battle. He will find it much harder to win the war.
Matthew Ashton, Nottingham Trent University
Now that Trump has vanquished his Repubican rivals he can start setting out his stall for the general election and perhaps try to pivot to the centre ground. But as a presidential candidate, his flaws are glaringly apparent.
Trump has burnt an unprecedented number of bridges within the GOP. Primary races are normally fairly rough-and-tumble affairs, but Trump has taken name-calling and mud-slinging to a whole new level. Given the level of vitriol he unleashed, it is difficult to imagine many of this year’s failed candidates enthusiastically endorsing him, as usually happens once a presumptive nominee emerges. This might in turn make finding a credible vice-presidential candidate difficult.
Equally, given some of his exceptionally provocative remarks, Trump will struggle to appeal to crucial voting groups – Latinos, African-Americans and women in particular. He’ll also struggle to attract independent and moderate voters while holding on to his more angry radical supporters.
In terms of organisation, Trump currently has quite a weak ground game. One of the reasons Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney back in 2012 was the fact that he arguably had the best campaign machine in history. While Hillary Clinton will inherit some of that equipment to augment her already formidable primary operation (and perhaps some of Bernie Sanders’s too), Trump is essentially starting from scratch. He’s shown the ability to adapt politically, but building a serious machine requires a lot of effort very quickly.
To compound all this, Trump will now come in for a lot more personal scrutiny. One of the arguments in favour of the primary system is that it means the eventual nominee will have been thoroughly vetted by the party establishment and media. But apart from in one or two cases, notably the brief flurry of stories about Trump University, they’ve given Trump a relatively easy ride on his record. With the Democrats prepared for the general election fight, that is going to change.
None of these obstacles are insurmountable, but they will demand monumental organisation and discipline. So far, Trump has demonstrated neither. And his temper and natural instinct to defend by attacking might be his biggest downfall.