Donald Trump Can Actually Win
In what is the world’s biggest beauty contest, the U.S. presidential election in 2016 will be more about the least unattractive contestant than an actual coveted one. Donald Trump, who has all but secured the Republican Party’s nomination, knows a thing or two about beauty contests. He also knows he can beat Hillary Clinton, because he doesn’t need to persuade voters to check his name on the ballot.
Instead, Trump can simply rely on the fact that many Americans simply don’t want Hillary Clinton to win, including many Democrats. They will stop at nothing to prevent her from being elected president, even if it means voting for Trump. It’s fair to say: the more they hate her, the more he wins.
Similarly, Hillary Clinton could get most of her votes from people who don’t want to see Trump sitting smugly in the Oval Office. She will likely get the vote of many Republicans, who fear Trump even more than some Democrats.
Indeed, a May 5 Reuters/Ipsos poll suggests that about half of the voters for Trump or Clinton will vote less in favor of the respective candidates and more to prevent the other side from winning. (Source: “Exclusive: Top reason Americans will vote for Trump: ‘To stop Clinton’ – poll,” Reuters, May 6, 2016.) This is a contest about fear and deepening ideological divides.
A political scientist, Larry Sabato has described the phenomenon as “negative partisanship.” (Source: Ibid.) Trump and Clinton are the ideal candidates to run such a race.
As the poll shows, only 42% of those who said they would vote for Trump agree with his plans. The majority of his support (47%) comes from those who simply see him as a wall to block Hillary Clinton from the presidency.
The same pattern of voting, but with the opposite choices, applies to Hillary Clinton. Most (46%) simply want to prevent her from returning to the White House. Only 40% actually like her policies.
Indeed, one of the questions that Americans will ask at the end of the campaign is whether the American party system will implode. Surely, the campaigns could help somewhat change the anti-vote pattern. Perhaps Trump or Clinton will manage to actually persuade Americans to vote for them rather than against the other; yet the election has “negative partisanship” stamped all over it.
Meanwhile, Trump will continue to woo Americans with a promise to “make America great again.” It’s clear that Trump believes he not only has the Republican nomination in his pocket but that 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington D.C. will be his new address in 2017.
The problem for Trump is that the negative vote campaign suggests he hasn’t managed to win over the Republican Party establishment, either. Now that the campaign will shift from the primaries to the general election itself, Trump may fail to secure GOP donors. (Source: “Donald Trump seeks Republican Unity but finds Rejection,” The New York Times, May 6, 2016.)
Still, Trump hasn’t become the colorful salesman that he is without knowing what customers want. He will likely start to drop names, hinting at what the Trump cabinet might look like before Cleveland. Trump could ask Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor, to be secretary of homeland security, Chris Christie as defense minister, and Ben Carson as secretary of health. (Source: “Trump shifts to VP search, could name Cabinet picks pre-convention,” Fox News, May 5, 2015.)
In the weeks ahead of the Cleveland convention next July, Americans can expect Trump to change his language and style significantly from the primaries. He has done what he needed to do. He has the nomination all but formally and Cleveland will be a coronation rather than a contest. As the consummate hawker Trump is, he will try to speak more as a president and less as “the Donald.”
And that’s why Hillary Clinton and her supporters need to be more careful: Trump will change costume.
After securing the support of those who see him as the last line of defense against traditional politics, he will try to persuade those who consider the very idea of seeing him in the White House as a national disaster. Still, even his best salesmanship won’t win over Hollywood personalities or even the last Republican president, G.W. Bush.