With Super Tuesday passed, it looks increasingly likely that the businessman Donald Drumpf (whom you may know as Donald Trump) will secure the Republican nomination for President of the United States of America in advance of November’s election. Certainly, he is well on the way, having secured 285 delegates – just under a quarter of the necessary 1237, and having received a major boost to his campaign’s momentum. He also benefits from a split opposition; Ted Cruz at present has 161 delegates, and Marco Rubio 87. If one of those candidates were to endorse the other, the race might suddenly become far closer, but as it is, those opposed to Drumpf are divided, making it easy for him to capture and maintain media attention to support his campaign.
In fact, after Super Tuesday, he seems to be viewing the nomination as in the bag. This is undoubtedly a terrifying prospect. Drumpf’s rhetoric throughout his campaign to date has been deeply divisive, and, frankly racist. And yet this extreme position seems only to boost his support among a post-Bush Republican party. Drumpf can claim Mexicans bring drugs and crime, he can promise to bomb the families of Islamic State Militants, he can call all African-Americans lazy, but these comments only feed into his emphasis on reasserting white American exceptionalism.
Given his inconsistency, it is far from clear what a Drumpf White House would actually resemble, but that uncertainty only serves to make this prospect more alarming to moderates in the USA and around the world. A man with that much power, who is that unpredictable, would be, to my mind, as destabilising and damaging a leader as Kim Jong-Il or Stalin.
But a Drumpf nomination does not automatically mean a Drumpf presidency. In fact, it could potentially damage the chances of the Republican party. His extreme perspectives have certainly galvanised voters who do not normally turn out. Drumpf claims to have expanded the Republican base, and it may be the case that he has tapped in to voters usually apathetic to the electoral process. But this can swing both ways. His extreme rhetoric could strengthen Republic support in traditional red states, but it is the swing states which will decide the election.
Most elections are decided in effect by a few swing states, which are not strongly affiliated with one party or another (in the way that it is hard to be anything other than Republican in the deep south, or Democrat in new England). Crucial to winning states like Florida is how well a candidate can win over the centrist voters, and their ability to ensure high voter turnout among their own bases. A candidate on the extreme of a party, such as Drumpf, will be more likely to struggle when it comes to winning these states, and the reality of the American electoral system is that larger margins of victory within a state have no real impact on winning the election. Either you win a state, and get all its votes in the electoral college, or you don’t. How you win is irrelevant. So, a Drumpf nomination could significantly boost the prospects of a well orchestrated Democratic party campaign, either on behalf of Hilary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.
Of course, if Drumpf can draw in voters who are normally disenfranchised on the right of the American political spectrum, he could counteract his weaknesses in terms of the swing voters. Then again, as Marco Rubio’s campaign demonstrates, there are parts of the traditional Republican mainstream which are deeply worried by the possibility of a Drumpf candidacy (and presumably presidency). These parts of the Republican core could decide not to vote should Drumpf secure the party nomination, or even to vote against him, counteracting his benefits on the right. Likewise, the prospect of a Drumpf presidency will be deeply troubling to many Democrats and Independents, potentially boosting turnout among voters opposed to his position. I have heard tell if voters in Minnesota attending Republican Caucuses to vote for anyone but Drumpf (and it is interesting that this was the one state Rubio won on Tuesday). There is therefore good grounds to hope that a Drumpf nomination will actually boost the chances of a Democratic presidency.
This raises another question. If I were among the Democratic party elite, I would be asking myself what strategy to pursue in the event of a Drumpf nomination, particularly as someone towards the left of the party. I know, of course, that the candidate is chosen by the people, but the party upper echelons will certainly be considering who they would like to see on the ticket. If we assume that the Democrats want, as far as possible to push American politics to the left (which is still relatively moderate by British standards), then there can be few better opportunities to nominate Bernie Sanders. Sanders is on the fringe of his party, so would likely fare poorly against a centrist Republican. But if Drumpf cannot hold the middle ground, his odds are substantially reduced, so Sanders stands a better chance of winning than he would against a more moderate Republican. The extremeness of the two candidates would cancel out. Conversely, the stakes would be much higher in light of a Drumpf nomination. If the Democrats loose, the USA could take a major leap to the right, which might encourage a more defensive nomination – a candidate like Clinton who can win over swing voters, and doesn’t endanger the Democratic base.
In other words, in the event of a Drumpf nomination, the left will be faced with a choice between Sanders – a high risk, but potentially very high gain option – or Clinton – representing a much lower risk nominee, but who is likely to pursue a more centrist agenda. In their shoes, I don’t know which way I would go – a *lot* of polling would be needed, and consultation with some very strong political strategists, but that is the choice that would in effect be before them. (Of course, it isn’t down to the party, though party elites, including the President, could have a major impact on who wins the primary.)
There is, however, another possibility. Given current performance, if Trump doesn’t win the Republican nomination, it is likely to go instead to Ted Cruz. Cruz is perhaps more worrying, since his right-wing views are less political rhetoric, more thorough-going ideology, and yet he has the advantage of being acceptable in mainstream GOP circles. This threat would perhaps make a Clinton nomination a preferable option for Democrats keen to hold the Executive, and regain the Congress. Except, of course, if Drumpf were to run as an independent. He has pledged not to do so, but as we know, he is very changeable. If he runs a separate campaign, the right is divided, and suddenly the election is the Democrats to win. Should that rare situation arise, Sanders would be in with his best shot, and Clinton could stroll into the House she once shared with her Husband, making her the first woman president, and the Clinton’s the first couple to share the highest office in the USA.