I think Trump can win.
Dont laugh. Yes, a lot of people think hes a loudmouth and a jackass. (Fun Fact: I was his paperboy at his Greenwich mansion when I was 13-15). However, I think Trump is shrewd and that he knows precisely what he is doing:
He is figuring out how to turn his biggest liability into an asset and he will emerge as the only candidate on the Republican side who is viewed as having any authenticity.
The common wisdom is that Trumps popularity is fleeting, and that he is simply tapping into the frustration that many voters have with a Washington that seems out of touch with the mainstream and is appearing more and more corrupt to the average American.
This is clearly showing up in the polls:
However, the conventional wisdom is that Trump is not a serious candidate and that ultimately is just a distraction to the actual campaign.
I think that the conventional wisdom is wrong. I believe that Trump is a serious candidate and even has a decent shot at winning.
First, lets discuss the political landscape that he is looking at:
What the people believe no longer matters and they are starting to wake up to that. A recent academic study by two professors using over 20 years of data shows that Congress literally DOES NOT CARE what the people think.
They key quotes from the study:
Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organised groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.
“The preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.
Simply put: Your opinion doesnt matter.
Lets say you want to change that. You think you are going to have the ability to pick among 10+ Republican candidates for President and therefore have an impact. There is just one problem: They all believe the same things. As Mark Cuban recently pointed out:
The Republican Party requires that all their presidential candidates conform to consensus, If you dont agree with every platform of the party, not only are you called a RINO, a Republican in Name Only. You are considered unelectable in primaries and become a source of scorn on Fox News. Thats a problem.
There is literally almost no difference between the candidates (excluding Trump) on almost any issue. This is despite the fact that Republicans have widely divergent views on things such as immigration and the warfare state. Whereas Rand Paul was thought to be a potential candidate who was against endless U.S military aggression, he has since largely sold out to the warfare state and thus also jettisoned his credibility as someone who might significantly reduce the size of government. The only ideological difference that I can see between any of the other candidates is that Chris Christie is the most ardent supporter of warrantless spying while Paul is its strongest critic.
In this backdrop a significant portion of the electorate has been looking dimly at the prospect of a Bush V. Clinton matchup. With no clear front-runner on the Republican side many have joined the race, but I have yet to see any explanation about why a Walker V. Clinton or Rubio V. Clinton is a substantially different race than Bush V. Clinton, and the voters seem to agree with me.
To an outsider this smells like opportunity. On the Democratic side Bernie Sanders jumped into the race and is polling far higher than the Washington Insiders could have ever thought possible.
On the Republican side we have Trump.
Lets say you are Trump and you want to tap into voter frustration and ride it all the way to the White House, but everyone thinks you are a jackass.
What do you do?
Do you start listing your policy preferences and hope that the electorate likes your policies better than any of the other 10+ candidates, while annoying ? Of course not. What if a new-to-the-campaign Trump led his campaign on a tax simplification platform? Would anyone believe him any more than any of the other candidates? Of course not. Almost every candidate on both sides of the aisle have talked about tax simplification since Forbes ran in 1996. It is a popular idea, yet nobody believes that politicians are serious about it any more and thus nobody thinks it is anything more than another campaign promise.
So what has Trump decided to do?
A. Hes staked out one big issue (illegal immigration) the he knew would give him an immediate decent-sized base in the Republican Party.
B. Hes tapped into the frustrations of the electorate with, among other things, his brilliant display pointing out how corrupt the current system is. As reported in this article from firstlook.org:
“I was a businessman. I give to everybody. When they call, I give. And you know what? When I need something from them, two years later, three years later, I call them, and they are there for me.” He added, “And that’s a broken system.”
Repeatedly asked what he got in return for his donations, Trump said: “With Hillary Clinton, I said be at my wedding and she came to my wedding. You know why? She didn’t have a choice because I gave. I gave to a foundation that, frankly, that foundation is supposed to do good.”
The author of the article goes on to say Though it surely wasn’t his intention, Trump was illustrating the key problem with the current campaign finance system. Except I believe that the author was wrong. I think it was precisely Trumps intention to point out that everyone else up on the stage was in the business of essentially taking bribes while he of course was not.
A more normal candidate, having established himself as an outsider, might then go on to listing his policy preferences. However, Trump instead went with:
C. Amp up the dramatic jackassery to a whole new level. Why did he do this? Simply put, for authenticity. He is, after all, viewed by many as a loud mouthed jackass and a loose cannon. Instead of trying to deny that and going on the defensive about it he has instead used it as the center piece of his campaign. Hes Trump. Hes his own man. If you vote for him you know what you are getting and nobody owns him. Do you want to know what his real view is on a certain political issue? Just ask him. Why would it be anything other than what he says it is?
Now, having established his authenticity, he will go on to step D and start laying out his policy proposals.
What will they be? In addition to anti-illegal immigration, we already have some idea.
We know that he was against the Iraq War and the Drug War before holding those views was cool. He further commented in a relatively un-noticed interview with British media that the Crimea was Europes Problem.
But why isnt Germany leading this one? Trump added. You know Germany is a very rich, very powerful nation. Why arent they dealing on it moreso? Everything’s the United States — were like the policeman of the world.
Indeed. Why is this the United Statess problem?
As I hinted at earlier, it looks like Trump is going to make tax simplification a big part of his campaign.
No doubt all of the Republican candidates are for tax simplification. However, if all of them get up on stage and say that it is a hallmark of their campaign, which will you believe?
Indeed, which would you believe on almost any issue?
Trump also has another thing going for him. He has made himself immune to gaffes. When a normal candidate misspeaks during a debate or says something off-color by mistake, it drives the campaign reporting for days or weeks. Not Trump. Every time Trump says something offensive the public cares less and less. After all, thats just who he is.
Time will tell if I am correct. Perhaps it is a bad idea to bet against a Bush or a Clinton, but If I had to put money on someone else being the next President Id put it on Trump.
Stay tuned. Ill be updating this thesis as the campaign continues.