Ezra Klein wrote, Here’s What I Think Donald Trump’s Loss Will Look Like. You don’t need to read the article, here’s the entire argument, “Trump could just… not win. He could lose the Iowa caucuses. He could fall short in New Hampshire. A loss in any early state might lead to a loss in every state.” That could happen. But I think his argument is too dependent on Howard Dean as a model.
I remember the 2004 primary fairly well. I don’t recall Dean simply collapsing on the day of the Iowa caucus. His campaign seemed to be losing steam for months. His one big selling point was that he was against the Iraq War. But it also happened to have been the case that he wasn’t terribly liberal. And as good (Revolutionary!) as his online campaign was, the rest of his organization wasn’t that great. His whole campaign seemed to have lost steam by November. He was coasting. And then there was that bizarre trip to meet with Jimmy Carter. Through all that period, Dean seemed like the dog that caught the car. His campaign seemed rudderless.
Now you could say the same thing for Donald Trump. But I think Trump’s appeal to the Republicans is far more visceral than Dean’s appeal was to the Democrats. The Democrats liked that one issue, not Dean; Republicans like Trump. What’s more, there were real candidates running against Dean. Kerry might have seemed stilted, but he was a veteran. So was Gephardt. Trump is running against two first term Senators. Rubio actually has some experience, but he is not appealing to Trump voters. Cruz has basically no political experience and doesn’t seem any more electable against Clinton than Trump does. So I just don’t see Donald Trump petering out.
To me, the much more likely way that Trump loses is through the narrowing of the field. His negatives are still very high. After Bush and Carson get clobbered in Iowa, those votes will most likely go to Rubio and Cruz. I don’t see Christie doing anything much past New Hampshire. If Trump loses, it seems most likely that he will do so because there is a ceiling to his appeal. But that ceiling used to be much lower. The better he does, the higher the ceiling gets, because people aren’t against him because of his bigotry or policies or whatever; they are against him (in as much as they are) because they don’t think he can win.
I have no special insight into this. But I do think it is a mistake to make an analogy between Democratic voters in 2004 who were very angry about a recent event where they thought their party had let them down, and Republicans in 2016 who are very angry about everything and nothing, and always are. And I do think he has as good a chance of winning the Republican nomination as anyone else. But let’s not forget: he’s set the timbre of the campaign. If he isn’t the candidate, he’s still more or less the candidate. Again, I don’t think there is anything special about Trump. So who really cares? Donald Trump wins!