I recently attended a lecture at a left-leaning academic institution on the current political and economic state of Iran. After 45 minutes discussing the state of the Iranian economic climate and its grappling with militant Islam, among other topics, the panelists opened the floor to questions. The moderator called on me as I stood in the back.
"I would like to know," I said, "how people within Iran feel about the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency, and how you think they would respond if such a thing were to come to pass."
To my horror, the room of (what I assume to have mostly been) liberals burst into laughter. The idea of a President Donald Trump evidently did not seem any more plausible than it did in the past several months or years, despite that Trump would romp to an expected victory in the Nevada caucus mere hours later. Liberals have been dismissive of Trump's candidacy since he entered the race in the early summer and continue in their refusal to believe that the bombastic billionaire will clinch the GOP nomination, let alone the presidency.
Believe it, liberals. This thing is real, and failure to acknowledge and deal with the current circumstances could lead to the worst of outcomes.
America's liberals are by no means alone in the belief that some force will emerge to dislodge Trump from his perch atop the GOP polls; indeed, many within the GOP establishment continue to believe this as well. Yet, if any other candidate were sitting on both the lead enjoyed by Trump in delegates already awarded and the polling leads in the states to come -- not to mention the gargantuan financial resources the frontrunner has at his disposal -- observers would already be crowning that candidate the presumptive nominee.
Modern presidential nominating contests bear this out: As Jeff Greenfield notes in a recent column in The Daily Beast, no leading contender for a major party nomination has been derailed this late in the game.
Detractors to the idea of Trump winning the presidency point to his favorability numbers, which are indeed dismal. According to the Huffington Post's Pollster*, which aggregates public opinion polls on a number of different issues, Trump's favorability numbers are over 20 points underwater, with 36 percent registering a favorable opinion of him and 57 percent registering an unfavorable opinion. Fivethirtyeight recently pointed to Trump's favorability ratings as evidence that he would struggle in a general election.
The same can be said for Trump's relationship with demographic groups outside of his traditional base of supporters: the less-educated working-class white voter. Trump's lack of popularity among minorities and the young has been well-documented.
There are several problems with this argument. The first is that Trump has defied conventional political wisdom before. We all remember the confident pronouncements following Trump's campaign kickoff that he was likely to burn hot before burning out. In October, the Washington Post's Dana Milbank went even further, proclaiming, "I'm so certain Trump won't win the nomination that I'll eat my words if he does. Literally: The day Trump clinches the nomination I will eat the page on which this column is printed in Sunday's Post."
Milbank's piece on Monday of last week was forebodingly titled, "Majorities of Republicans haven't voted for Trump. But they may get him anyway."
The second problem with the usage of Trump's approval numbers as evidence for his lack of electability is none other than his likely Democratic opponent. As hopes fade for the GOP establishment to wrest the nomination from Trump, can the Left honestly express confidence in its chances of winning if the only thing standing between real estate magnate Donald Trump and President Donald Trump is Hillary Clinton?
The former senator and secretary of state, for all her decades in the spotlight, has proven remarkably effective at stumbling when it matters. She infamously botched the 1993 health care rollout, squandered what was almost a 30-point national lead in her loss to a freshman senator for the 2008 Democratic nomination, and, most recently, has shown difficulty in putting away the nomination against a 74-year-old Jewish socialist. Even in a general election, Hillary would have to contend with the ongoing debacle surrounding her private email server, which, a new development indicates, is not going away anytime soon.
The American people are aware of Hillary's baggage. This is reflected in the fact that, according to HuffPost Pollster, only 40 percent of Americans have a favorable view of Hillary, while 53 percent have an unfavorable views, only an 8-point difference between herself and Donald Trump. As if that wasn't enough, HuffPost Pollster's general election polling aggregate indicates that Hillary would top Trump in a general election by just 4.5 points. With as nasty and ruthless a race as Trump would be likely to run, is 4.5 points really that much ground to make up?
The GOP establishment finally recognizes the threat posed by Trump and is issuing increasingly worried language about the possibility that he could win the nomination. Surprisingly, members of the GOP establishment have even expressed anxiety about the possibility of Trump besting Hillary in a general election. (You read that right.) A November Washington Post story quoted an anonymous Republican strategist as saying, "We're potentially careening down this road of nominating somebody who frankly isn't fit to be president in terms of the basic ability and temperament to do the job.
"It's not just that it could be somebody Hillary could destroy electorally," the strategist continued, "but what if Hillary hits a banana peel and this person becomes president?"
It is looking increasingly likely that Hillary Clinton is all that stands in the way of a President Donald Trump. The numbers indicate that liberals should be eliciting caution and diligence instead of laughter and dismissiveness.
And by the way, that Iran expert? He answered my question by saying, "Iranians usually prefer Republicans to Democrats. They feel that with Republicans, at least they know what they're getting."
In other words, even the Iranians have managed to come to terms with the possibility of President Donald Trump. The question is, can liberals do the same, before it's too late?
* Full disclosure: I completed a fellowship with HuffPost Pollster in 2014.