No one saw it coming. The billionaire real-estate mogul has skyrocketed in polls in recent weeks. Little to no media attention has been directed at other presidential candidates (even to Ohio Gov. John Kasich who just announced his run). How has “The Donald” done it? And what does that mean for the presidential campaign for 2016?
It’s no secret Donald Trump is good at garnering media attention. He has continually garnered attention for his real-estate empire, his TV shows, and even just his hair. However, most recently, the media has been focused on inflammatory remarks about Mexican immigrants considered by many as racist. Just to recap:
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best. They’re not sending you, they’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems. They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists and some, I assume, are good people, but I speak to border guards and they’re telling us what we’re getting.”
It is clear that Donald Trump is beholden to no one except himself (otherwise known as “a loose cannon.”) He speaks his mind with no regard to political correctness or special interests. The Donald is running by himself and for himself (and for America, of course). He lobs attacks at all contenders: Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Hillary Clinton, and even Lindsey Graham. The GOP has tried to reprimand him, but to little avail. Trump’s campaign is rolling along.
To me, Trump’s campaign is the most compelling of 2016. His style and content presents a view we’ve long lost in the presidential campaign: it’s the man running, not the party.
Since Trump’s campaign is entirely self-funded, he doesn’t need to fundraise. He doesn’t need to establish a Super PAC, please rich donors, families, or corporations; Trump’s campaign is about getting Trump in office. Other campaigns poll first (like Hillary Clinton’s) to see which issues play well among voters. Trump doesn’t care what issues and stances please voters. He has been playing the authenticity card: win voters over by being himself. And it’s working! While many times his remarks are inflammatory, derogatory, or plain racist, he doesn’t feel the need to please donors or voters.
Despite the initial success of The Donald, it’s likely things will turn. Presidential campaigns are more likely to change than Katy Perry is while performing. What can happen?
He’ll drop in the polls
This is likely. Rand Paul started out with high polling averages after the announce of his campaign in April; his recent numbers place him below many of the front-runners in the campaign. While he has stayed far more under-the-radar than Donald Trump, the polls are almost guaranteed to change. The first event that must be watched is the aftermath of the first primary debates: if Trump actually succeeds in providing substantial speeches that focus on answering the question, including some policy action-items, and overall avoiding looking like a clown, his numbers will more or less stay up there. People already enjoy his straightforwardness: now they’re looking for a leader. If Donald Trump stands up there and only calls his opponents “DumbDumb” or other names, even the least sensible of voters will realize that this country needs a different style of leadership.
The way to retarget his messaging is to focus on policy: ignoring the comments directed at Scott Walker, Trump expressed that the public infrastructure (roads, schools, hospitals) in Wisconsin is failing and that is due to Walker's policies. These negative attacks could help bolster his image: it expresses his know-how of policy and what must be accomplished. However, to truly reinforce an image of leadership, he must support his negative attacks with proposals on what policies he would support (besides building a wall on the US-Mexican border).
If he drops in the polls consistently after continual campaigning and debating, it’s likely he’ll drop out especially if he loses the first four or five states. Even if he has measly success on Super Tuesday, The Donald will eventually drop out.
He’ll run as an independent
This is the scarier option and the most dangerous to Republicans. This could happen even after he drops in the polls continually. He’ll mobilize voters in 50 states across the nation to get his name on the ballot and thus included in the presidential debates during the general election. Ross Perot is a prime example of what happens when a slightly-right leaning independent gets enough attention and support from voters: the Democratic nominee wins. Twice.
It’s clear that, for a third-party candidate to really win, he’s going to have to spend a lot of money. Even though Trump is worth a few billion dollars, his liquid assets total to only a few hundred million. The unfortunate state of the American system means this is likely not enough money needed to win the presidency, especially when big contenders like Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, and Hillary Clinton are likely needing $1.5 billion to win.
No matter what, it’s unlikely that Donald Trump will actually succeed in becoming the 45th President of the United States. Thorough analysis puts the weight of the Republican nomination in the hands of “somewhat conservative” voters – voters who like an even-keeled, experienced leader who advocates for conservative values without radical change. Even if The Donald secures this bloc of voters for the nomination or runs as an independent, he will alienate many left-leaning independents (your author included) with his inflammatory remarks. Even though he’s considered a distraction by many GOP analysts, the Republican party should not underestimate Trump’s desire to win the presidency, even if that means as an independent. This is the fascinating problem: Trump already has support, and if he runs as an independent or a third-party candidate, it’s likely handing the presidency to whoever the Democratic nominee is.
The next two months will be telling of whether The Donald will be successful in garnering enough support to get the Republican nomination. If not, the GOP should be wary of a third-party run. In the end, it might be America sitting Trump down at a table and saying, “You’re fired!”