Pundits have been in denial for months, and I have been one of them. No one seriously thought Donald Trump could win the Republican nomination. His path to the nomination has been an unconventional one:
- no political experience,
- virtually no endorsements,
- no particular past allegiance to the Party or to conservative values,
- no significant amount of money raised or spent,
- no massive campaign staff managing his ground game and getting out the vote.
For these reasons, most experienced people who follow politics saw his early poll numbers as a flash in the pan that would dissolve quickly once primary voting started. That has not been the case. Trump has won three out of four contests so far, with the forth being a close second. No single nominee has stepped up to be the single alternative to Trump, and the most powerful establishment figure with the most money, Jeb Bush, has already ended his campaign. Trump leads in the polls in most of the upcoming primary States and seems well poised to take a majority of delegates before the convention.
Given Trump's high negative numbers even within the Republican Party, it was reasonable to assume that someone would come into focus as the establishment choice and collect all of those people who hate/fear a Trump presidency. That, however, has not happened. Trump maintains a solid lead in the delegate count and is poised only to increase that lead.
Previously, I had predicted the possibility of a divided convention. But now I don't see that happening. Even with four other candidates still in the race, they are collecting fewer delegates combined that Bush has. Under Republican rules, primary after March 15 take a winner take all approach. If Trump wins a state with 35% of the vote, he gets 100% of the delegates. This is a big difference from the Democratic Party rules which continue proportional delegates throughout the season.
But what about Super Delegates? Certainly the point of those is to prevent a nominee that is nearly universally opposed by the Party establishment. No, while that is the case in the Democratic Party, the Republicans require that super delegates vote for the nominee who won their State. Many super delegates are obligated to support Trump even if they dislike him.
As a result, there is a very clear path for Trump to secure the nomination with a majority of delegates by the end of March. Chances of another candidate with fewer delegates seeking a divided convention seem almost nil.
Ok, so Trump wins the nomination. Does that mean he goes down in flames in the general election? I'm not so sure. While Trump certainly has much higher negatives among Democrats and independents, he has also been able to turn out large numbers of people who have not voted in many years. Historically unusual large turn out of faithful voters can realign the electoral map. It can more typically solid Democratic States like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, or Michigan into red States. Trump's high numbers with seniors might also hand him the pivotal swing State of Florida. Those States along with the traditionally solid Republican States and Ohio give Trump enough electoral votes to become President.
The likely Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, also has high negatives with many voters, mostly thanks to decades of Republican mud slinging. She also has few hard core supporters thanks to a rather stand-offish and guarded personality and a campaign strategy unwilling to take risks.
Like it or not, Trump has a fairly solid path to the Presidency at this point. Of course, lots more can happen. Fear of a Trump Presidency may be enough to motivate voters, but historically, it is support, not opposition to a candidate, that gets out the vote. Donald Trump may be our next President.