Six months ago few predicted that Donald Trump would be a serous presidential candidate let alone win the Republican Party nomination. But with a win in Indiana Donald Trump has effectively secured the GOP nomination. Now party operatives and pundits say he cannot win the presidency. How wrong they may be. Like Jesse Ventura in Minnesota in 1998, Trump may soon shock the world by defeating Hillary Clinton were she to become the Democratic nominee.
In many ways Trump and Ventura are similar candidates. Brash, outspoken perhaps even to some obnoxious personalities who successfully used their media pop culture personas to help succeed politically. They are both politainers-politicians and entertainers–who understand the powerful convergence of the media, pop culture, and politics and manipulated that to their advantage while their opponents looked stiff and wooden. Both Ventura and Trump speak to voters who felt that the two major parties left them behind. For Ventura the route to success was through third party politics, for Trump it was the take over of the Republican Party and the killing off of any remaining legacy that the Reagan brand still held over it. Ventura and Trump looked fresh in the face of stale old party politics and candidates. Ventura went on to be elected Minnesota’s governor by defeating two tired looking establishment candidates of the Democratic and Republican parties. Trump might well do the same if Clinton is the nominee.
Polls right now suggest that Clinton has a ten or more point lead over Trump in aggregate nation surveys and newspapers such as the New York Times declare that it is an uphill battle for the latter. Just like they said he could not win the GOP nomination they are making the same claim about Trump winning the presidency. How wrong again they may be, failing to see trends that suggest that he can win, or at least the Clinton could lose.
First ignore the polls. How many times has Clinton had insurmountable poll leads over Sanders only to see them collapse. Indiana is only the most recent example of a state that Clinton supposedly was going to win and nail down the nomination but failed to do so. It seems every time she has a lead in the polls, even in 2008, Clinton gets complacent and loses it. While the Democratic primary has made Clinton a stronger candidate in some ways, it has also exposed powerful weaknesses that will be exploited by Trump in the general election.
Moreover, national polls mean nothing. Presidential elections are fought in a 50 state Electoral College battle and the real issue is how Trump and Clinton do among the 10% of the swing votes in the ten swing states that include Ohio, Florida, and Virginia. Here polling suggests a tighter race. Even more, given the weaknesses that Sanders exposed in Clinton regarding free trade agreements and globalization, normally safe Democratic states such as Michigan and Pennsylvania will be contested, forcing her to devote resources to races normally not defended.
Trump and Clinton have enormous negatives, the highest among any recent presidential candidates. This too creates a variable that complicates a Clinton victory. Yes more than half the country dislikes Trump but the same can be said about Clinton where the cadre of Hillary haters is long and deep among both Republican and many independent voters who may come out in droves against her. How that affects swing voters and voter turnout could also be critical. With that, Clinton needs the Sanders’ youth vote and so far there is no indication that she can win it and it is not clear that even if Sanders supports her that his voters will flock to her. Part of the problem is her uninspiring political narrative and campaign, both in comparison to Sanders and even to Trump. Trump has a message–good or bad–that resonants and inspires voters who are passionate about him. The same cannot be said about Clinton.
Finally, this is an anti-establishment year. Clinton is the face of the Washington establishment, Trump is not. In a race where running as an outsider is an advantage Clinton just does not have it.
But yes Clinton does have something else going for her–effectively running as a Republican. With the Republican Party panicking over a Trump candidacy and how it may impact their control of Congress, prominent Republicans are considering supporting Clinton. In fact, the New York Times reports that Hillary is now seeking support or endorsements from them. This suggests three points. First, so much for Republicans labeling her a liberal–she was and is not. Second, for many who have argued that Clinton is really an old-fashioned Republican in disguise, this lends credence to that assertion. Finally, it appears that Clinton his preparing to give up on the Sanders’s supporters and the liberals in the Democratic Party and instead embracing Republicans. This might mean that these individuals stay home on election day. Moreover, if Clinton does do this it suggests creation of a new Democratic center-right party that brings down the Republican and Democratic parties as we know them now. Perhaps this is good short term politics but Clinton but not necessarily in terms of party building for the future with Millennials. This is a fascinating strategy but one that counts on Republicans detesting Trump more than Clinton.
Overall, for those of us from Minnesota who once saw another brash outsider named Jesse Ventura shock the world and became our governor, it would not be a surprise to see Donald Trump do the same by defeating Hillary Clinton.