I recall a time when people couldn't imagine that Ronald Reagan could be nominated for President, let alone elected, so it seems reasonable to seriously look at the possibility of a Trump presidency.
There seems to be a series of questions here - a sort of decision tree.
1. Is there a way to stop a Trump nomination?
2. If he's nominated could he possibly win?
3. If he won, what would things look like?
4. If he lost, what would be the impact on the Republican Party and the US? (Not to mention the rest of the world.)
In this post I'm just going to play with the first two questions. (Basically, I plan to just write this off the top of my head. Then I'll probably google around to see what others have said and decide if I need to revise.)
1. Is there a way to deny Trump the nomination?
I see several possible ways Trump might not be the Republican nominee.
A. Anti-Trump candidates pool their delegates for one of their own. Trump's only getting 30-40 percent of the Republican primary votes. That means that 60-70 percent of Republicans are voting against him. I'm not sure what the rules are these days, but in the past, delegates of candidates who drop out can switch to other candidates. I'm not sure how many delegates each candidate has at this point and we don't know how many they'll have by the convention. It's hard to imagine Cruz giving his votes to Rubio and vice versa. But this whole primary has been hard to imagine. This is a numbers problem and check with those blogs that tally delegate counts.
B. Trump's past or something he says or does will cost him his base or outrage enough people that he is forced to pull out. One could say that he's tried everything possible already, so this is unlikely. Sometimes i think that he's deliberately trying to destroy the Republican party by insulting everyone he can think of. His followers seem to be excited by his style of saying fuck you to everyone who crosses him, not by his content. I don't see how he can lose the faithful if he keeps up this style until he gets nominated. Can he say or do something that would cause the Republican Party to ban him from the party? I'm not sure.
C. He gets seriously ill or dies.
D. The Republican establishment changes or manipulates the delegate procedures to thwart his nomination. Probably the most likely way to stop him. But Trump would probably run as an independent candidate.
2. If he's nominated, can he win?
This presidential election calls to mind two elections that I've lived through: Goldwater and Reagan. Of the two, this one seems much more like Goldwater.
Goldwater and Reagan
Goldwater was a US Senator, so he was more of an insider than Trump. But he was seen as extreme in his own party. And he was supported by the John Birch Society, somewhat similar to the Koch Brothers and the Tea Party. A big difference is that Goldwater was a senator when senators referred to each other as "the honorable Senator from . . ." and debated civilly and didn't publicly call each other names.
Reagan was an outsider, but he had been governor of California. (His signature is on my UCLA diploma.) He was supported by party establishment and followed their script closely, literally reading the teleprompter in his actor role as 'the candidate.'
Of the two, I'd say this year is more like 1964 when Goldwater ran against Lyndon B. Johnson and lost badly.
That said, many would argue that the old rules no longer apply. I'd say that's true of the rules of thumb of political pundits, but not the underlying rules of how people behave and politics work.
Can Trump Get Elected?
Trump is getting 30-40% of Republicans. As I've said repeatedly, that means 60-70% of Republicans oppose him. Is there any way he could win the election if nominated?
1. He could totally turn his back on the people who have been supporting him and present himself as a much more moderate candidate. I'm not sure he could pull off such a change and whether it would be credible to most people.
2. He could totally attack his opponent - Clinton, Sanders, or whatever surprise is ahead - as he's done with his Republican competitors in the primaries. I suspect Clinton or Sanders will be ready and that for the majority of American voters, it will be reason to vote against Trump.
This all leads me to wonder whether he's just running to destroy the Republican party. He keeps being more and more outrageous, maybe wondering if there is anything he can say or do to alienate his supporters. It seems not. Maybe if he pushes gun control. Maybe this is all a show on his part to expose the hypocrisy of our political system.
Reagan won in part because the persona he presented was this firm, but loving father/grandfather figure who knew right from wrong and would take care of his family. It's also reported that he won because his team secretly negotiated with the Iranians who had taken hostages in the US embassy and agreed to buy arms from them to sell to the Nicaraguans if they kept the hostages until after Reagan became president. If that's true, and I'm inclined to believe it's more likely than not, it would amount to treason. But the Reagan hero machine ignores such details.
My guess is that:
1. Hillary Clinton will be able to credibly respond to Trump's attacks without lowering herself to his level.
2. Trump's crude attacks will not go over well beyond his current supporters.
3. Many Republicans will hold their noses and vote for Trump because they simply cannot vote for a Democrat, especially a woman.
4. Others will not vote for Trump, but may vote for other candidates. Basically though, a Trump candidacy will depress Republican voters and will probably be a big turnout generator for Democrats.
5. Clinton will win big, like Lyndon Johnson did in 1964.
I believe that Trump is the kind of guy who believes in the success of any project he takes on. He's not doing this to destroy the Republicans, but to become president. He feels himself qualified and he only sees the positive outcome of himself as the future president. Just as his campaign so far has surprised everyone, he believes that will continue.
Clinton will lose votes because she's a woman. But she'll also get votes because she's a woman. A close relative argues, persuasively, that Clinton is the most qualified candidate in history. She's got private sector experience as an attorney. She's had a birds' eye view of the presidency for eight years. She's been a US Senator. She's run for president before. She's been secretary of state. She knows many of the world's leaders. She's dealt with critics in the media and in Congress. And she's head and shoulders more qualified than any of the Republicans. But then a woman has to be twice as good to get to this point.
The difference in qualifications and style between the two candidates will be so overwhelming that sane Americans (and I think that's still a majority of the voters) will not have choice but to vote for Clinton or not vote at all. The question will be whether those normally conservative leaning voters will just skip voting for president or whether they abandon the whole ballot. I think a sizable number simply won't vote. What they do will impact the Senate and possibly cut deeply into the Republican majority in the House. And the governors elected this election will be the ones with influence in the 2020 redistricting.
Trump will do his best to pull Clinton down to his level as he's done with his opponents in the primaries. Clinton's strategy will be to hit him hard with facts, but leave the name calling to Trump. Surrogates will defend her.
Now, who has thoughts on the vice presidential candidates?