There are two categories of saying something is "literally impossible." The first is Speed-of-Sound and the second is Speed-of-Light. Huh?
Well, back in the day, pundits were fond of saying that mankind would never travel faster than the speed of sound because it was, frankly, impossible. Of course the Concord proved them wrong. We've also got people saying that since the pundits called it so badly on the Speed-of-Sound issue, all those eggheads saying we can't go faster than the Speed-of-Light must (may) also be wrong.
Makes sense? Not exactly. The Speed-of-Sound issue was always just an engineering problem. We saw things like bullets break the sound barrier with regularity. We don't see anything in nature go faster than light. It isn't an engineering problem--it's a baseline physics problem.
So, here's the question: Can Trump Beat Hillary?
Speed-Of-SoundThe pundits got everything--everything--wrong about Trump this cycle. That goes for the data-guys (538, PEC) as well as for the conventional observers (Larry Sabato). If the prevailing sentiment is that Trump can't win now, isn't that just more pundits setting themselves up for humiliation?
Speed-Of-LightOn the other hand, what if the reasons for thinking Trump had no chance to win the primary were basically predicated on the idea that no way would the GOP nominate someone who had no chance to win the general? If that were the case (538's initial dismissal of Trump was based on his likability deficit--one that persists) then could the GOP just be insane and the thesis, like the laws of physics, still hold (the laws of psychics don't, as we see, prohibit people from believing they can go faster than light).
So which is it?
It's Speed-Of-SoundThe Omnivore is sorry to tell #NeverTrump that the laws of physics don't actually prohibit the election of Trump to the office of the presidency. It could happen. It might happen. The odds of you being stomped to death by an elephant on Main Street might be .00001%--but that is no reason not to flee in terror once you are on Main Street and see an elephant.
Trump, as the head-to-head face-off against Hillary is now in scoring position. Thanks, Obama.
That said, let's take a look at where things stand now.
The Trump-Wins Scenarios
An analysis of pundit's Trump-Wins scenarios looks more or less like this:
- The Hillary Collapse / Black Swan Scenario: If Hillary gets indicted, if there's a major terrorist attack, or Yellowstone explodes, Trump could win because: Chaos. Certainly possible.
- Trump Gets It Together: Essentially combining a more presidential attitude with a good VP pick and targeting the Rust Belt could give Trump a winning coalition that digs into Democratic blocs for support. Okay--could happen. Why hasn't it happened already?
- It's The Year Of the Insurgent: A lot of people--especially Bernie supporters--note with "concern" that Hillary is the status quo candidate in a throw-the-bastards-out year. Well, true(ish). No one is more throw-the-bastards-out than Trump. To be any more throw-the-bastards-out than Trump you'd have to throw yourself out (that may be what happened to Ted Cruz, actually).
- Trump Is Unstoppable: The theory goes that Trump has defeated all comers with his crowd's enthusiasm, his incredible ability to insult the opponent into the dust, and his free TV time. He did, in fact, school the GOP. Can he manhandle Hillary?
The Trump-Wins maps either have him winning Florida or Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin. The Omnivore thinks that many conditions that could give Trump a win still wouldn't easily hand him Florida--but that doesn't mean these are patently absurd either.
It's Speed-Of-LightA closer look at these scenarios breaks down like this.
We are said to be nearing the end of the FBI investigation. Whether Hillary will be charged is uncertain--but The Omnivore leans against it. That said, this is plausible and, if things are handled badly in the fallout, Trump could wind up facing Bernie Sanders who could much more plausibly lose to him than Hillary. That said: the odds are small.
The Hillary Collapse
Trump Gets It TogetherDonald and Ryan meet this coming Thursday and, who knows, maybe they'll reach an accord--but leading up to that, Ryan has said he couldn't yet endorse Trump and Trump responded saying he couldn't endorse Ryan either--and then Sarah Plain, Trump's surrogate has said she'll help his primary challenger. That's DEF CON 1 right off the bat.
Basically, if Trump were going to get it together, now would really be the time.
The Year of the InsurgentWell, it is. It's also the Year of the Monkey. That doesn't mean King Kong would win a national election. Hillary might be The Establishment Incarnate--but she has won more votes than Trump or Sanders. Secondly, when Sanders starts campaigning for Hillary she'll get some of his supporters. What's going on in the GOP is not the same thing that is happening to the Democrats or the nation at large.
Real charisma should not be underestimated and Hillary is no charisma-machine. It is possible that Trump--just by being Trump--will pick up converts who aren't on the far-right spectrum (if you can even call Trump-voters that). However . . . it should be noted that Trump's method of "insulting his way to victory" really appealed to a group of GOP voters who felt constantly humiliated by the GOP establishment (the people he was insulting). If he can literally make Hillary cry on-stage with insults, he might have a chance of winning by that route--but calling her Crooked Hillary alone may not be enough.
Trump Is Unstoppable
His brand of not backing down in the face of a Political Correctness challenge played to a crowd that made Ben Carson a front-runner (almost) on the basis of a single attack on Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast. In other words, these guys? They're rubes. Trump is cleaning them out.
It's true that no one ever went broke underestimating the American public at large--but there is also no evidence that Trump has the same mind-control style powers for every audience. Yes: he may come up with some kind of appeal for each demographic he needs to make headway with--but we haven't seen that yet.
Trump's break-through of his "ceiling" came against Ted Cruz who is one of the least likable people to ever enter politics (apparently) and presented voters with a choice of Trump--the likely winner anyway, Cruz--a hard-right ideologue who would view compromise with moderates as weakness and defeat, and Kasich--a guy who managed to come in 4th in a 3-person race (he had fewer delegates than Marco Rubio).
Kasich got 7.5% of that vote.
ConclusionsThe fact that "everyone got it wrong" in the primary so "the pundits saying Trump can't win the general" must also be wrong has problems before we even get to the logical fallacy that being wrong about one thing means you must be wrong about another.
For one thing, the polls--all along--were right. The Omnivore was there. Sure, the decline could have happened--but after a while of leading--and then a while more--there was no reason to think it would. Secondly, while some of the dynamic has been due to the press or other factors (Ted Cruz helping to legitimize Trump early on, for example) it seems unlikely that those conditions will prevail.
For one thing, the press may not continue to give Trump a pass--either because they are leftists or because Trump is now a real, extant threat. It could also be that while Trump is good for ratings, he'll continue to be good for ratings--even if he gets grilled mercilessly--because now he can't go away.
If we see any of the following it's time to think Trump's fundamentals are changing.
- The GOP unifying--see what happens with Ryan this Friday.
- A major anti-Clinton development.
- A serious evolution by Trump.
- A devolution of the Democrats which results in Sanders supporters becoming more susceptible to Trump (or something like Sanders running 3rd Party).
If we see a serious improvement in his favorable numbers--especially with minorities--then it's time to think the game may be changing.
Barring these signs, The Omnivore thinks Trump's chances of victory are more speed-of-light than speed-of-sound. The minority vote in the US is non-negligible. The #NeverTrump vote may really reach a percentage point or more. Trump's super-weapon is telling the GOP base exactly what it wants to hear. That may not scale as well as he's hoping.