Before I talk about The Donald, I’d like you to think back to 2011 and 2012. In particular, think of Michelle Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, and Herman Cain. Remember them?
Each of them was either a front-runner or a major challenger to the eventual nominee, Mitt Romney. Each of them followed a very specific pattern. They would shoot up in the polls. They would be covered closely for a week or two. In that time we’d learn all sort of details that would scuttle their run.
Bachmann is actually too much of a fundamentalist (and her husband was a major liability). Her zany ideas did not withstand scrutiny. Herman Cain’s tax plan sounded crazy, and that is because it was. (999!) And Gingrich, who left office in disgrace, never did explain why he should be let back into office. If only he’d left before adding “Newtmentum” to our lexicon. A look back at the 2012 nomination data is a great trip into the past.
The reason I’ve been converted to thinking Trump could win this is that he is doing better than Romney. He has more of the larger field than Romney did and only briefly ceded the lead to Carson. With Carson on the way out, and he still holding his position, he is the one with everything to lose.
There is a danger to writing this after his comments about banning Muslim immigrants. This could be the thing that finally answers the question, “Has Trump gone too far?” But the answer to that has never been “yes” before. I call this phenomenon durability. I have no idea how to guess who is durable—I was in the camp that said Trump would fizzle. But Trump is definitely it. He is the candidate who has weathered enough storms that the safe bet is on him weathering the rest.
The media narrative is around Cruz or Rubio catching up with him. I won’t say no on this blog, but I will say I’m skeptical. Cruz is the easier candidate to doubt. He has all the media savvy of a dead salmon. Voters may have forgotten about what a disaster his shutdown was, but they will soon be reminded. Maybe he can spin it, but you’ll lose money on that bet.
Rubio to this point has been under-performing against pundit expectations, this amateur pundit included. The Jeb Bush protege should, by rights, be doing well. Except, by rights, Jeb Bush should be doing well. There is a theory that says he blew it, but he did not do anything that Romney did not do except have a certain brother named George. Maybe that was it, but I think voters just are not buying the insider candidates.
There is a case to be made here, and it is not about any one candidate overtaking him. Trump has been hanging out around 30%. Sure, he’s had good weeks and bad weeks, but 30%. As the field has consolidated—minor candidates are on their way out—he has not benefited. I cannot underscore how important this is to guessing what happens next.
Trump may have capped out his support. This is not about Cruz being able to beat him. This is just saying only about a third of the GOP are willing to vote for him and the rest are picking between who is left. As those candidates consolidate, one of them might pass Trump.
There are many ifs in that analysis. Trump may benefit from other lead candidates dropping out, and that might put his campaign very much ahead. Cruz and Rubio are mostly snapping up Fiorina and Carson’s support, and maybe Trump will do better if one of them leaves. Or maybe we will see that the party is deciding between loose-cannon senator and true-establishment senator and once they decide that will trump Trump, as it were.
Time will tell. But smart money is, I think, on Trump riding this all the way to the convention. There is a strong case to be made he will get the nomination once he is there.
And that is terrifying.