Like many of you, I’ve been trying to answer the question “What in hell is Donald Trump actually doing?” I know now. I can also make a prediction about how he will change the 2016 election, and it’s not just “hand it to Hillary.”
As he has all along, Donald Trump said things last night that no politician would say. Three minutes into the debate, he refused to pledge to back the eventual Republican nominee. He said “most of the people on this stage I’ve given to, just so you understand, a lot of money.” He admitted that giving money to politicians, including Democrats like Hillary Clinton, gets them to listen to him and help him; in other words, he said that government is corrupt and he uses that corruption to his advantage. He repeated his proposal to build a wall on the Mexican border. He admitted to using the nation’s bankruptcy laws to his advantage.
While you can object to the things he says or to their veracity, the fact is, he has changed the dialogue. John Kasich put it very well last night:
. . . we need to take lessons from Donald Trump if we’re really going to learn it. Here is the thing about Donald Trump. Donald Trump is hitting a nerve in this country. He is. He’s hitting a nerve. People are frustrated. They’re fed up. They don’t think the government is working for them. And for people who want to just tune him out, they’re making a mistake.
If you analyze Trump like any other politician, you are making a grave error. He’s playing a different game.
It’s as if all the other politicians are playing chess, and Donald Trump is playing basketball.
He’s not going to win the chess game called politics, because he’s not playing that game. Here is what Donald Trump wants:
- He wants to shift the debate.
- He wants his issues front and center.
- He wants to change the way politicians talk.
- He wants to change how the government does business.
- He wants us all to remember him and understand who he is.
Notice what is not in this list. Unlike all the other politicians, Donald Trump doesn’t care about his future in the Republican party. And Donald Trump does not want to be president. He knows it’s impossible.
Read Nate Silver on Fivethirtyeight.com. The nominating process has six huge hurdles for any candidate, and the party controls them. Like Steve Forbes, Ron Paul, and Rick Santorum in past elections, he can win or make a strong showing in Iowa or New Hampshire. But none of those people became the nominee. Trump will not sweep, and the superdelegates will not allow him to take the nomination.
So here is the withoutbullshit.com prediction on what will happen in the next 15 months.
- Donald Trump will continue to dominate the debate until Iowa and New Hampshire. The Trump phenomenon could abate before then, but I don’t think it will.
- Trump will rank among the top three candidates in both Iowa and New Hampshire, and could win either or both. He needs a stronger local organization in New Hampshire, which he will buy, rather than build. (Think employees, not volunteers.)
- As the primaries continue, many of the other candidates will drop out. Their supporters will coalesce around a Trump opponent. Unlike Trump, they do not have unlimited funds. The surviving candidate will most likely be Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, or John Kasich.
- One of those four candidates will lock up the Republican nomination.
- Donald Trump will run as an independent. (Remember, his goal is not to win the presidency but to change the debate. He has no loyalty to the Republican party, as he showed last night. He will keep this going as long as the microphones and cameras are around.)
- Because the Republican leadership will allow Trump to speak at the convention only if he supports the nominee, he will have no speaking slot. Trump will stage some sort of alternate media event to get his coverage around the time of the conventions.
- As a result of Trump’s presence in the primaries and the election, candidates will speak more frankly and directly. Trump’s issues, including immigration, America’s competitiveness around the world, and the inefficiency of government, will be central to the debate. The other two candidates will position themselves as the candidates for grownups, but that will drive many voters seeking change (“an outsider”) into the Trump camp. Hey, it happened in Minnesota.
- In the general election, there are two possible outcomes. The conventional wisdom is that Trump will siphon votes from the Republican nominee and hand states to Hillary Clinton or whoever is the Democratic nominee. The Democrat will win. That’s possible.
- There is a high likelihood that Trump will win a few states, like George Wallace did in the 1968 election. If this happens, no candidate will win a majority of the electoral votes and the election will go to the U.S. House of Representatives. Since the House is and will remain Republican in 2016, this would hand the election to the Republican nominee.
- Trump will not win the election, but he will survive as a public figure. Trump’s issues will be front and center in the national debate. And Trump’s way of communicating will change American political discourse forever.