Mon. Apr 15th, 2024

Trump Actually Has Pretty Good Odds of Getting Back to the White House

If nothing else, once you’ve won a major party nomination, you’ve got some significant chance of winning, just by dint of being one of two people in the country who could plausibly be president at that point. 

The thrice-indicted, twice-impeached, once-defeated, politically toxic Republican standard-bearer has a real shot at the presidency again.

By every conventional standard, Donald Trump should long ago have resigned himself to a pleasant retirement playing golf at his clubs, but instead he is marching toward the Republican nomination and could, quite plausibly, return to the White House.

Although the early polling of a potential head-to-head match-up between Trump and Biden is close, and 2016 remains a cautionary tale for anyone dismissive of Trump’s chances, the Republican case against Trump leans heavily on the notion that he’s unelectable, and Democrats clearly prefer to run against him on the assumption that he’ll be beaten.

There is no doubt that Trump is the riskiest electoral choice for Republicans and the odds may be against him in a rematch with Biden. But the “can’t” in the common formulation, “Trump can’t win,” is a strong word.

If nothing else, once you’ve won a major party nomination, you’ve got some significant chance of winning, just by dint of being one of two people in the country who could plausibly be president at that point.

A nominee is the almost-automatic inheritor of a solid electoral block constituting roughly half the country, or about 45 percent of the popular vote and 200 electoral votes. “Each party has now established a virtually impregnable sphere of influence across a large number of states in which they dominate elections up and down the ballot — from the presidential contest through Congress and state races,” Ron Brownstein writes, pointing out that 40 states have voted for the same party in the past four presidential elections.

Regardless, let’s say the odds are heavily stacked against Trump. If, say, Joe Biden has a 70 percent chance of winning and Trump only a 30 percent chance, the fact is that 30 percent things happen all the time. A good major-league hitter has about a 30 percent chance of getting a hit during any given at bat, and fans aren’t shocked when he does it.

No one in a Trump-Biden rematch would be a robust, broadly appealing candidate.

Trump won a narrow victory against Hillary Clinton in 2016 and was portrayed by many Republicans as an electoral juggernaut, thanks, in part, to how relieved they were to be rid of Hillary.

By the same token, Biden won a narrow victory against Trump in 2020 and has been seen by many Democrats as — if not necessarily an electoral juggernaut — uniquely suited to beating Trump, thanks, in part, to how relieved they were to be rid of Trump (at least for a time).

The reality is that it’s less that Biden is the indispensable bulwark against Trump than Biden needs to run against Trump to win.

Biden needs the 77-year-old Trump to mute his age as an issue, Trump to obscure his ethical problems and Trump to match his unpopularity.

Trump is weaker than he was in 2020, but so is Biden. Trump may not be capable of picking up any additional votes over and above 2020, but Biden certainly could lose some.

According to the latest New York Times/Siena poll, Biden has a dismal 39 percent approval rating; 42 percent strongly disapprove of the job Biden is doing, including 41 percent of independents. If the economy settles down into a cushiony soft landing, which is looking likelier, Biden could get a boost. Otherwise, he’s a weak incumbent sitting atop a deeply discontented country.

Biden also has considerable downside risks. He could have an ill-timed fall or some other health event. There could yet be a smoking gun in the Hunter Biden scandal. Independent or third-party candidates could steal a small, but crucial increment of votes. The Electoral College gives Republicans an advantage. And the economy could still bounce the wrong way.

One of Biden’s chief vulnerabilities, age, is by definition going to get worse, not better.

Biden has the stiff gait of someone who could take a nasty spill at any time. The White House decision to have him use the shorter, underbelly steps for Air Force One is wise and prudent. We’ve seen him almost nod off in the midst of talking to the president of Israel in the Oval Office and trail off at other times into mumbly incoherence.

Already, his reduced state is hurting him. According to the latest NBC News poll, 68 percent of voters have concerns about Biden’s mental and physical health, and 55 percent have major concerns. The number, naturally, has gone up over time. Back in October 2020, only 51 percent had concerns. What will the figure be 15 months from now? This isn’t a strictly partisan phenomenon, by the way — 43 percent of Democrats share these concerns.

Trump, of course, would enter a general election weighed down by his own deep, persistent unpopularity. According to that Times poll, 44 percent of people have a strongly unfavorable view of Trump, including 49 percent of independents.

The indictments are layered on top of his already radioactive image. They are a wedge issue, boosting him among Republicans while further undermining him among everyone else. 51 percent of people, and 55 percent of independents think Trump has committed serious federal crimes; 53 percent of people think he threatened democracy with his post-election conduct, including 58 percent of independents.

At the very least, the indictments and any trials will drain him of resources and time (they already have). And they will put an intense focus on subjects that will remind voters, if they needed reminding, of why they don’t like him — payoffs to a porn star, willfully reckless handling of classified material and attempts to subvert the 2020 election.

He could easily end up convicted of felonies before the November 2024 election rolls around. But it’s also possible that Trump succeeds in delaying trials past the election (the documents case, in particular, presents nettlesome issues around classified material that could prove very time consuming). And it’s not out of the question that some charges could get tossed, or Trump could escape conviction thanks to a couple of recalcitrant jurors.

If he’s convicted, that’d be a drag, and perhaps a killer. We shouldn’t underestimate, though, the ability of our ceaseless news cycle to absorb anything and make it old news, and if the economy is unsatisfactory in a year’s time, it’s not impossible to imagine Americans focusing on that issue to the exclusion of almost anything else.

What we are looking at, then, is an unpopular incumbent who doesn’t control Congress, so has limited power to change his image, and who’s a hostage to fortune regarding his health and the state of the economy.

And he may well be challenged by an unpopular opponent who’s one of the most famous people in America, with limited power to change his image and who’s a hostage to fortune regarding his legal issues and the state of the economy.

It’d behoove Republicans not to play this game and offer someone who’s fresh and relatively young, with much less baggage, beginning with not having committed or been indicted for any crimes.

Failing that, the GOP is going to bank on Trump not being literally unelectable, and hope for the best. source