Can Trump Win the General Election?

This article starts with an assumption that Donald Trump will be the GOP nominee for President.  There is obviously not much love lost for Trump here at Redstate (me included), but windows of opportunity are closing quickly for both Cruz and Rubio.  The latter has not won a primary yet and the former cannot rely on the “I won Iowa” theme while losing in the South on March 1st, his base of support.  South Carolina was indicative of the headwinds facing Cruz as Trump won in convincing fashion taking votes from what should have been votes for Cruz.  Further, if polls are correct the alleged Southern firewall Cruz built in the South is likely non-existent except for his home state of Texas.  After March 1st, things start to dry up for Cruz.  There are also reports- since denied- that leading conservatives may remove their endorsement of Cruz should he falter on March 1st.

And Ted Cruz can blame Ted Cruz for making a strategic gamble early when Trump was still a joke.  What we know about Trump near the end of February 2016, we knew about him in August 2015- he is a fake conservative.  Perhaps Cruz saw another candidate as a bigger threat, but his reluctance to attack Trump hard and early most likely hurt him the most.  Being the “most consistently conservative” candidate, he should have realized the fake conservative would attack him at some point.

For Rubio, the dynamic is different.  It is kind of hard to decipher his strategy and a fifth place finish in New Hampshire dimmed his light.  Even if Cruz does decide to drop out of the race in March, it may be too little too late for Rubio.  First, there is no guarantee Cruz supporters will run to Rubio given the built up animosity (sometimes displayed on these pages), unless Cruz openly endorses him.  Second, Trump may have such a lead on Rubio by this time that for Rubio to prevail, he’d have to run the table against Trump (unlikely).

Political pundits will be scratching their heads for years should Trump be the GOP nominee.  One has to figure how he emerged as the nominee when we started with 17 candidates and, dare I say, at least 8 of them infinitely better than Donald Trump?  But, this is an election cycle that defies all others and that is the only “hope” the GOP has if they are to be successful in the task of denying Hillary Clinton the White House.

The reason is the electoral landscape entering the 2016 general election.  There are precious few swing states- Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Ohio, New Hampshire, Florida, Virginia, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.  That gives Clinton a 227-191 lead in the Electoral College count with 270 to win.  If we throw in the Democratic-leaning states because of recent trends or demographics (Colorado, Iowa and Pennsylvania), the picture looks more bleak and Clinton leads 262-191.  Let’s give North Carolina to Trump.  Clinton would need to win just one state among Florida, Ohio or Virginia (or Nevada plus New Hampshire).  The path to the White House is easier for Clinton than for Trump.

However, this is all not written in stone.  If anything, Trump has defied the political Bible throughout this campaign.  Clinton leads Trump by about 4 points nationally in an average of polls depending on the source.  For Trump, that is actually better than how Romney fared against Obama- a sitting president- at this point in 2012.  Also, before Trump announced his candidacy in early June, his favorability sat at 21.5%.  Today it sits at 38.3%, a 78% increase.  Conversely, Clinton’s favorability rating in June 2015 was 45.7%, but down to 41.8% now- comparable to Trump’s.  Over the course of the primaries, Trump is showing a dramatic increase in favorability while Clinton is showing a slow, steady decline.  Further, Trump has shown an ability to garner support from a wide swath of the GOP electorate.

But, let’s assume that Electoral College math finally catches up with Trump’s dream of living in the White House and he loses by a realistic 326-212 in the electoral count.  Now comes the scary part.

Generally speaking, the so-called “presidential coattail” effect is sometimes overstated.  But, that is in the overall sense.  There have been demonstrated positive correlations followed by negative or statistically insignificant positive correlations.  We are currently in a period where we are in and strengthening the positive correlations.  What does this mean?  It means that whoever the state prefers for President, the voters also tend to pull the lever of that Party’s Senatorial candidate.

With the GOP enjoying a 54-46 advantage in the Senate, there is a very real possibility that a Clinton win would translate into a Republican loss of the Senate.  One needs to consider the fact that two incumbents- Ron Johnson in Wisconsin and Mark Kirk in Illinois- were vulnerable entering the race and even more so since they will face formidable opponents in November.  Seven Republican Senators hail from states Obama won in 2008 and 2012.  Only Grassley in Iowa is not endangered.  That would put (besides Wisconsin and Illinois) seats in Florida, New Hampshire, Ohio and Pennsylvania in serious danger.  Thus, if the current trend in coattail correlation continues on its current strengthening path and Clinton wins the presidency, the GOP can expect a loss of six Senate seats.  That could be mitigated, at best, by a pick up in Nevada, but a net loss of five seats and control of the Senate nevertheless.  In fact, a stronger-than-expected showing and close finish (or victory) in Indiana by Clinton could even threaten that open Republican seat.

With a Clinton presidency and a Democratic-controlled Senate (admittedly, all conjecture at this point), the future of the Supreme Court hangs in the balance.  Assuming the Republicans stick to their guns and do not confirm or entertain anyone Obama may nominate, that task would pass to Clinton.  And with a Democratic-controlled Senate, she could wreak serious liberal havoc first with Scalia’s replacement, then with others throughout her term and even use the Republican argument against them.

The stakes for all three branches of government are extremely high.  Cognizant of the fact that there are many here and elsewhere who fear a Trump presidency, the lesser of two evils is the unfortunate choice we are left with.  Staying home or casting a protest third-party vote only hands the presidency to Clinton by a bigger margin.  And as bad a a Trump candidacy would be to the Republican Party in particular and conservatism in general, a Clinton candidacy would be a disaster for the country.  Ironically, the most patriotic thing to do would be to vote for Trump and that is a string of words this writer never thought they would ever commit to print.  This is truly a sad period in American politics and conservatism.