Yes, it really might be President Donald Trump

The editor and publisher at Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall, is starting to think that Donald Trump might actually win the Republican nomination. His blog entry is partly in response to an article by Nate Cohn arguing (still!) that Trump cannot win the nomination, but makes its own points.[1] One of those is this:

In general, I’ve got a decent record of predicting these things. And that’s mainly because, like a good pilot, when you’re in bad or uncertain conditions, you need to watch your instruments rather than what you see out the window or what you feel.

In politics, your instruments are a mix of polling data, history and what we might call a real-time analysis of the various stakeholders and interest groups affecting a given contest. As you might be telling yourself, the last of those three may not be that different from going by gut, which is sort of the counter to what I’m saying. But instruments-only-flying only tells you where you are and what is happening right now. This is prediction. So there’s no perfect analogue.[2]

The possibility that Trump might indeed win the nomination has been getting ever more attention. Last month (November, 2015), Paul Krugman reposted an email from Alan Abramowitz, a political science professor, rhetorically asking just how it is that Trump can fail to win the nomination.[3] Tonight [December 15], following the Republican debate in Las Vegas, Matthew Yglesias writes that “Trump is in a position right now to win by not-losing, and by that standard boy did he win.”[4]

But the conventional wisdom, echoed by one of Yglesias’ colleagues just a few days ago [December 11], remains that Trump can’t win.[5]

I’m still really at Abramowitz’ question. Somebody needs to show me a persuasive case that Trump will indeed fail. And I’m just not persuaded by anything I’m seeing so far.  Yglesias reduces the establishment “stop Trump” movement so far to wishful thinking,[6] and on this point, I have to agree.

It’s pretty clear at this point that Trump’s appeal lies in the sheer rage felt by his supporters—principally authoritarian populists joined by paleoconservatives—and this has been the story at least since August. For these conservatives, Trump seemingly can do no wrong. They don’t care what he says or even what anybody else says.[7] In some ways, this is a similar phenomenon to the one that brought down John Boehner as Speaker of the House[8]: Authoritarian populists (correctly) feel used by functionalist conservatives (the ‘establishment’)[9] and now refuse to support the latter. Accordingly, any attack on Trump may backfire, reinforcing everything authoritarian populists sense about functionalists.[10] Which leads to the conundrum Yglesias raises that “for Trump to lose, someone has to actually beat him. And for someone to beat him, someone has to attack him — and persuasively.”[11]

Some months ago, I wrote optimistically that

bringing down Trump means emphasizing the differences between him and authoritarian populists. That’s a hard thing for any mainstream politician to do, because they’re all beholden to wealthy interests. But it’s the weakness that can and probably ultimately will be Trump’s undoing.[12]

The first part of that remains true. And I was counting on the Republican Party establishment to some way, somehow exploit that weakness and make the second part of it true. That second part is simply no longer plausible. And for Trump to fail in the primaries now—no votes have yet been cast—basically requires that accumulated months of polling data be wrong. In this, while there was a hiccup,[13] Trump has mostly been coming up roses with the race really being for second place.[14] There may indeed be problems with the polls. I’ve been hearing for years about issues with sampling—people don’t answer and often don’t even have traditional landlines, online polls often rely on self-selected respondents, and a recent article in the New York Times repeats these concerns.[15] And there have been a few surprises, notably with David Brat’s defeat of Eric Cantor, then the second most powerful Republican in the House of Representatives,  last year.[16] But so far, Marshall’s ‘instruments’[17] continue to prove right more often than not.

So unless the Republican establishment can find a way to do what I suggested—and as of yet, there’s no sign that they even can—it very much looks like Trump will be the Republican nominee. But more fundamentally, it may simply not even be possible to counter the sheer rage that authoritarian populists are feeling. That’s not something that quantifies well and I’m inclined to think that if the polls are wrong, they’re erring toward understatement rather than overstatement.

I’ve already stated my reasons for thinking Hillary Clinton is unelectable in the general election. I think she loses both on national security grounds and on the economy. So accordingly I think that Trump will be the next president.[18] The economy is a major reason for the anti-establishment mood in this election,[19] Clinton inherits Obama’s dubious legacy,[20] national security seems to be returning as a concern,[21] and at the end of the day, Clinton just isn’t that well liked.[22] More fundamentally, if progressives have any brains at all—and one might think that they most certainly do—they have to be getting tired of being rolled for their support on the claim that “the other guy is worse” but seeing little to nothing of their agenda enacted in return.[23]

There’s still a lot of time for something to go wrong with a forecast that Trump takes it all, but after several months of this campaign, we have to start taking the countdown to November seriously—it’s less than a year away.

  1. [1]Josh Marshall, “I Think It Could Be Trump,” Talking Points Memo, December 15, 2015,
  2. [2]Josh Marshall, “I Think It Could Be Trump,” Talking Points Memo, December 15, 2015,
  3. [3]Paul Krugman, “Thinking About the Trumpthinkable,” New York Times, November 22, 2015,
  4. [4]Matthew Yglesias, “Republicans are trying to beat Trump with wishful thinking and it’s not working,” Vox, December 15, 2015,
  5. [5]Andrew Prokop, “We asked 6 pollsters if Trump could win the general election. Here’s what they said,” Vox, December 11, 2015,
  6. [6]Matthew Yglesias, “Republicans are trying to beat Trump with wishful thinking and it’s not working,” Vox, December 15, 2015,
  7. [7]Michael Barbaro, Nate Cohn, and Jeremy W. Peters, “Why Donald Trump Won’t Fold: Polls and People Speak,” New York Times, August 22, 2015,; Philip Bump, “Donald Trump’s various rude and offensive comments haven’t hurt him at all,” Washington Post, November 27, 2015,; Peter Grier, “Donald Trump soars to big poll lead. What’s going on?” Christian Science Monitor, July 21, 2015,; Jeet Heer, “Donald Trump Is Not a Populist. He’s the Voice of Aggrieved Privilege,” New Republic, August 24, 2015,; Kathleen Hennessey, “GOP strategist talks to Trump supporters and comes away believing he could win the nomination,” Los Angeles Times, August 25, 2015,; Mark Hensch, “Trump: I’m winning because Americans are ‘tired of being the patsies’,” Hill, August 29, 2015,; Evan Osnos, “The Fearful and the Frustrated,” New Yorker, August 31, 2015,; Alex Pappas, “‘Nothing Disqualifies Trump’ — What A Focus Group Tells Us About His Supporters,” Daily Caller, August 24, 2015,; Waleed Shahid, “Why We Can’t Bridge the Gulf Between Donald Trump Supporters and the Rest of Us,” Bill Moyers, December 10, 2015,; Gerald F. Seib, “Why Donald Trump Survives the Waves He Makes,” Wall Street Journal, November 23, 2015,; Niall Stanage, “Can anything bring down Teflon Trump?” Hill, August 8, 2015,; Kimberley A. Strassel, “The GOP’s ‘Whatever’ Moment,” Wall Street Journal, September 10, 2015,; Karen Tumulty, “Will Trump eventually cross a line — or do the lines no longer exist?” Washington Post, November 25, 2015,–or-do-the-lines-no-longer-exist/2015/11/25/5a1c9f0a-9225-11e5-b5e4-279b4501e8a6_story.html
  8. [8]Eric Cantor, “The G.O.P., After John Boehner,” New York Times, September 25, 2015,; Allegra Kirkland, “Rep. Pete King: Boehner’s Resignation Is ‘A Victory For The Crazies’,” Talking Points Memo, September 25, 2015,; Cristina Marcos, “Furious Boehner allies lash out,” Hill, September 26, 2015,; Tierney Sneed, “Republicans Openly Wonder: Will Kicking Boehner To The Curb Change Anything?” Talking Points Memo, September 25, 2015,; Jennifer Steinhauer, “John Boehner, House Speaker, Will Resign From Congress,” New York Times, September 25, 2015,
  9. [9]Thomas Frank, What’s the Matter with Kansas? (New York: Henry Holt, 2005).
  10. [10]Matea Gold and Robert Costa, “Plan A for GOP donors: Wait for Trump to fall. (There is no Plan B.)” Washington Post, November 25, 2015,; Amanda Marcotte, “Why Fox News’ Defense Of Megyn Kelly Is Going To Backfire,” Talking Points Memo, August 26, 2015,; Jonathan Martin, “Wary of Donald Trump, G.O.P. Leaders Are Caught in a Standoff,” New York Times, December 1, 2015,; Eugene Robinson, “Attacking Donald Trump seems to only make him stronger” Washington Post, July 20, 2015,; Niall Stanage, “Trump’s success annoys GOP,” Hill, July 22, 2015,; Niall Stanage, “GOP in panic over Trump,” Hill, November 27, 2015,
  11. [11]Matthew Yglesias, “Republicans are trying to beat Trump with wishful thinking and it’s not working,” Vox, December 15, 2015,
  12. [12]David Benfell, “Bringing down Donald Trump,” Not Housebroken, August 11, 2015,
  13. [13]Philip Bump, “Donald Trump is free to cherry-pick his polls. But his decline is clear,” Washington Post, September 27, 2015,; Bill Curry, “Hillary’s in danger, Trump is sunk: The hard truths America is ignoring this election season,” Salon, August 17, 2015,;
  14. [14]Jennifer Agiesta, “CNN/ORC poll: GOP voters want more Trump,” July 26, 2015,; Jennifer Agiesta, “Poll: Donald Trump surges to 32% support,” CNN, September 10, 2015,; Dan Balz and Scott Clement, “Poll: Trump, Carson top GOP race; Clinton leads Dems but support drops,” Washington Post, September 13, 2015,; Eliza Collins, “Trump rises, Carson collapses in Post/ABC poll,” Politico, December 15, 2015,; Caitlin Cruz, “Jeb Tumbles To 4 Percent And Trump Holds Big Lead In Pew Research Poll,” Talking Points Memo, October 2, 2015,; Cathleen Decker, “California Republicans echo U.S. trends, favoring outsiders Donald Trump and Ben Carson,” Los Angeles Times, September 13, 2015,; Jonathan Easley, “Trump hits new high in poll,” Hill, December 14, 2015,; Patrick Healy and Megan Thee-Brenan, “More Republicans See Donald Trump as a Winner, Poll Finds,” New York Times, September 15, 2015,; Janet Hook, “Donald Trump and Ben Carson Gain Strength in Poll of Republicans,” Wall Street Journal, October 19, 2015,; Janet Hook, “Trump, Cruz Lead GOP Field; Support for Carson Plummets, Poll Finds,” Wall Street Journal, December 13, 2015,; Jonathan Martin and Dalia Sussman, “Fear of Terrorism Lifts Donald Trump in New York Times/CBS Poll,” New York Times, December 10, 2015,; Alan Rappeport, “Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton Endure as Ben Carson Recedes, Poll Says,” New York Times, December 2, 2015,; Megan Thee-Brenan, “Donald Trump Solidifies His Lead, but Leaves Many Nervous,” New York Times, December 10, 2015,
  15. [15]Nate Cohn, “Online Polls Are Rising. So Are Concerns About Their Results,” New York Times, November 27, 2015,
  16. [16]Andrew Beaujon, “Explainer sites find Cantor’s loss inexplicable,” Poynter, June 11, 2014,; Danny Vinik, “Why Didn’t the Data Geeks Predict Eric Cantor’s Defeat?” New Republic, June 10, 2014,
  17. [17]Josh Marshall, “I Think It Could Be Trump,” Talking Points Memo, December 15, 2015,
  18. [18]David Benfell, “As the world fumbles toward another world war, the U.S. fumbles toward a Trump presidency, Not Housebroken, November 24, 2015,
  19. [19]Dan Balz, “What have Bush, Clinton learned from voters’ attraction to the outsiders?” Washington Post, September 5, 2015,; Laura Bliss, “The Pessimism of White, Working-Class America,” CityLab, November 17, 2015,; Ben Casselman, “The Economy Is Better — Why Don’t Voters Believe It?” FiveThirtyEight, November 12, 2015,; John Cassidy, “How Will the Economy’s “Lost Decade” Play Out in 2016?” New Yorker, June 9, 2015,; Chris Cillizza, “Democrats are WAY angrier than Republicans about the political system,” Washington Post, September 29, 2015,; Kevin Cirilli, “GOP contenders take turns bashing Wall Street,” Hill, June 14, 2015,; Bill Curry, “Hillary’s in danger, Trump is sunk: The hard truths America is ignoring this election season,” Salon, August 17, 2015,; Nick Gass, “Poll: GOP three times as angry at government,” Politico, November 23, 2015,; Patrick Healy, “Democrats Find That Anti-Establishment Isn’t Just a G.O.P. Theme,” New York Times, October 3, 2015,; Janet Hook, “Voters’ Mood: Surly Side Up, With a Side of Optimism, Poll Shows,” Wall Street Journal, October 1, 2015,; Robert Reich, “The Revolt Against the Ruling Class,” August 2, 2015,; Ken Thomas, “It’s hearts versus heads for many in unions as they decide whether to back Clinton or Sanders,” Minneapolis Star-Tribune, August 19, 2015,; Eli Yokley, “Anti-Establishment Mood Doesn’t Stop ‘Invisible Primary’,” Congressional Quarterly Roll Call, October 8, 2015,
  20. [20]David Lightman, “Is Obama a help or hindrance for ’16 Democrats?” Sacramento Bee, November 14, 2015,
  21. [21]Jonathan Allen, “Bernie Sanders and ‘top secret’ emails are catching up to Hillary Clinton,” Vox, August 12, 2015,; Jonathan Martin and Dalia Sussman, “Fear of Terrorism Lifts Donald Trump in New York Times/CBS Poll,” New York Times, December 10, 2015,; PollingReport, “Problems and Priorities,” 2015,; Eli Stokols, “Security fears reshape 2016 field,” Politico, November 24, 2015,
  22. [22]Jennifer Agiesta, “Poll: New speed bumps for Clinton,” CNN, June 2, 2015,; Dan Balz and Scott Clement, “Poll: Trump, Carson top GOP race; Clinton leads Dems but support drops,” Washington Post, September 13, 2015,; Philip Bump, “Hillary Clinton hits a new low in the polls — but this time it’s not Bernie Sanders’s fault,” Washington Post, September 8, 2015,; Nick Gass, “Hillary Clinton’s favorability numbers have gone under water,” Politico, September 2, 2015,; Luciana Lopez, “Clinton wins union endorsements but still struggles to win over hearts,” Reuters, November 27, 2015,
  23. [23]David Benfell, “An essential first step,” Not Housebroken, November 30, 2015,

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