One of the frequently asked questions these days is: Can Donald Trump win the Republican nomination and subsequently the general election? The usual forecasters look at past elections and current polling patterns to predict the results of the various primaries and to calculate the odds for the presidential election, but their methodology has one glaring weakness: There has never been a candidate like Trump in one of the two major parties, so up to this point we are in completely uncharted territory. A couple of things have become clear though: Trump has consistently been polling around 30% of the GOP electorate, give or take a couple of percentage points in different states. Whether he can win primaries depends on how many candidates stay in the Republican race and for how long. With the current field of nine more or less serious candidates Trump would be a shoo-in in most states except Iowa, where a majority of the GOP electorate is even more rabid than Trump and might very well go for Ted Cruz. But after Iowa all scenarios depend on the order in which candidates drop out and where their votes go.
Therefore, in order to say something sensible about the results we can expect in the primaries, the most relevant information seems to be the choice voters would make if their original candidate was no longer in the race, and then develop different scenarios based on the moment various candidates call it quits. I have neither the data nor the skills to do that, and I assume someone like Nate Silver is working on it, but I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that in most scenarios Donald Trump would still be the Republican nominee. Recent polling has shown that a consistent majority of Republicans would vote for one of the loony right wing candidates, Trump, Carson or Cruz, and of the three Trump has the best chance to ultimately get that majority to vote for him. So let’s assume that Trump eventually wins the nomination, then what? A generous estimate says that he wins 50% of the Republican vote in the primaries and that 50% of the voters in the general election are normally inclined to vote for the GOP candidate. That gives Trump a guaranteed 25% of the total vote, and at least 25% he still has to win over.
But then his problems really start. At that point in time he’ll have assembled a coalition of the Republican underclass: Gun toting rednecks, racists, anti-abortion zealots and provincial illiterates who want America to be great again while they cannot stop proclaiming that it’s #1 already. Trump doesn’t have the luxury of past GOP nominees, who moved to the right during the primaries and then back to the middle, if he wants to hold on to that constituency.
It’s what keeps the Republican establishment awake at night. Not only would they have to embrace Trump’s racism, xenophobia and misogyny, which could damage their party beyond repair, but they would also have to sell his oversized personality to the other half of their voters, whose loyalty may not go as far as voting for Trump, and then win over some independents.
So things would be looking up for the Democrats, but they have different problems. Today in the New York Times there was a story about a Kentucky woman who knew she would lose her healthcare under a GOP Governor but still didn’t vote. They cannot afford too many of those.