If Trump Wins the Nomination, Here Are Five Ways He Might Win the 2016 Election

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign stop Friday, Feb. 19, 2016, in North Charleston, S.C.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign stop Friday, Feb. 19, 2016, in North Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Trump as the GOP's nominee for President is looking very plausible, whatever the day to day advances and setbacks of his campaign. Many Republicans cringe at the thought that the party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Eisenhower is becoming the party of Donald Trump. Meanwhile, many Democrats and progressives smirk, complacent in their belief that Trump would suffer a presidential election loss so huge it would make Goldwater's 1964 debacle look like a triumph. Despite these naysayers, Trump, if nominated, actually has a very attainable path to the White House.

Trump as GOP nominee would seem to be an unlikely winner of the 2016 election. In 2012, President Obama won by about 5 million votes and Trump has the highest disapproval ratings of all GOP candidates (about 60 percent of all Americans have an unfavorable opinion of him). Trump's mere presence on the ballot should energize the Obama coalition and get Democratic voters to the polls.

However, if nominated, expect Trump (like many candidates before him) to make a rush towards the middle ground. Perhaps Trump even plans to play a bit of Prince Hal hoping that (to paraphrase Shakespeare)

When his loose behaviour he does throw off, his reformation shall glow more goodly and attract more eyes, than if it had no history of bad behaviour to set it off.

Imagine a grand convention speech where Trump disavows his more offensive remarks, and commits to wanting to be President of all Americans. America loves contrition in its politicians -- after all, how many times have we forgiven the Clintons their various transgressions?

Let's assume Trump runs a shrewd campaign. Now, combine that campaign with even one of these exogenous shocks:

  1. A severe and successful "9/11" type attack on the mainland United States (the attack might be conventional, nuclear, biological, chemical and/or cyber -- but severe in effect) occurs close to the election. In the resulting chaos and panic, the GOP (rightly or wrongly) paints the Democrats as soft on terrorism and/or national security -- Trump becomes the man of the hour.

  • Assuming Clinton is the Democratic nominee, she might be indicted as a consequence of her private email server and/or the activities of her family's foundation, or perhaps key members of her team will be charged with criminal offences. (I realize for people on the far right, it is a matter of religious belief that Clinton is guilty, and for people on the far left, it is an equally fervent belief that she is innocent. As a more neutral observer, I will opine that it's possible a crime -- or crimes -- may have been committed.) An indictment could occur in the middle of the election. Remember, one of Clinton's greatest defects is that she's viewed as untrustworthy (some polls already show that about 60 percent of Americans feel she can't be trusted). If criminal charges are filed against Clinton or her team, the impact on her campaign would be enormous (one might even say "Yuge") -- and that might tilt the election to Trump.
  • An economic collapse on the scale of the 2008 financial crisis begins (perhaps triggered by China or the technology sector). At this point in the 2008 election cycle, the unemployment rate was 4.9%, and by November 2008 it had risen to almost seven percent. Imagine the impact that kind of economic debacle would have on a Democratic presidential candidate's prospects.
  • Clinton (age 68) or Sanders (age 74) -- whichever is the Democratic nominee -- dies (from natural causes, a plane crash or whatever) or is incapacitated (e.g., by a severe stroke), and the Democratic Party finds it difficult to rally around a new and strong candidate. The GOP candidate would likely benefit from the resulting chaos.
  • Michael R. Bloomberg (or someone else) runs as an independent, and the election results in no presidential candidate winning a majority of votes in the the Electoral College. The presidential election would then be decided by the House of Representatives. (The voting process is by state delegation, and you can find the details here.) The bottom line is that the GOP would probably decide on the next President, and they would likely vote for the GOP candidate -- Trump.
  • Granted, individually these events have a low probability of occurring, but collectively -- they have a non-trivial probability. Moreover, this list of exogenous shocks that would assist Trump (or whoever is the GOP candidate) is far from exhaustive.

    So, if nominated Trump -- who has shown a "giddy, almost childlike, enthusiasm for torturing and summarily executing the suspected enemies of America" (why bother with such niceties as: finding out if the suspects are guilty, the Geneva Conventions, and the laws against torture) -- might be elected our next President. And, for everyone thinking of voting for him in the primaries (perhaps as a protest vote) -- remember, you might get the president you claim to want.