Election 2016: How 2016 Could End Differently from 1992 (Part 2)
As has been the case so often in this most unusual of presidential election cycles, a delay in releasing an article can render it redundant rather quickly. At first glance that could be said about this article and its predecessor, as they are based on the premise of Trump running as a third-party candidate or independent, a prospect ostensibly torpedoed by his signing a loyalty pledge to the GOP.
So that’s it, ladies and gentlemen. Trump is with the GOP no matter what, even if he loses.
Or is he?
In truth, the loyalty pledge is worth no more than the paper it is written on. Sure, the GOP grandees will howl, and maybe even some of his friends and supporters will be a bit miffed with his going back on his word. But that’s pretty much all the political fallout he would get. Trump has always said that he would go along with the GOP if he is “treated fairly”. Fairness, of course, is a fairly lax term even for someone who speaks in generalities, as Trump is wont to do. Hell, it might even benefit him in the long-run to reject the pledge down the line; his base certainly seems to love his picking fights with the party’s leadership.
So Trump can still run for president outside the party system, and I still contend that such a run would likely prove very different from Ross Perot’s attempt in 1992.
How would it be different?
For one thing, the political climate is far more volatile and anti-establishment than it was in 1992. When Perot ran for president, the institutions of government were held in far higher esteem. The presidency had about 50 percent confidence, while Congress held the confidence of about 20 percent of voters. Today it is 33 percent and 8 percent respectively.
Back in 1992, Perot had to deal with a more up-beat economy, a seemingly safer world, and a polity that was still broadly satisfied with the way the country was governed. Today none of that is true for a very large piece of the voting public. And that is why Trump could be different. If he runs and doubles down on his idiosyncratic policy platform, he could genuinely have a shot at winning by appealing to a dissatisfied and angry segment of America.
Yet the American presidential map isn’t about winning a majority of voters. All he would need is a plurality of the electoral votes. Depending on who he’d be up against in the general election and what stances they take, there might just be room for him snag an unlikely victory.
If the Republicans were to tap one of the conservative outsider candidates, such as Ben Carson or Ted Cruz, the going for Trump would be very tough. Many of his anti-establishment backers would likely plump for the candidate with the party brand. However, if it goes for one of the moderates, like Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, or John Kasich, then he would be alive. With any of these moderates, and especially with Jeb, Trump could carve out a far more extreme position that would likely bring along his base.
If Jeb is picked, Trump could probably extend his reach even further. This is due to the broad distrust among conservatives of the Bush royal family and of Jeb’s conservative credentials in particular. His perceived weakness on immigration would prove especially advantageous to a Trump run.
On the other side of the coin we must consider the Democratic nominee. If Hillary is nominated, again Trump would have a great deal of difficulty. Her centrist appeal is likely to remain largely intact and if she can keep to the political center Trump would likely just siphon votes off of the GOP. Yet if any of the other candidates is chosen, things could be very different. Someone like Joe Biden, who seems poised to launch a candidacy well to the left of Clinton, could alter the voting public’s calculus. Voters who identify as independents could face what appears to be Trump on the right, a Republican in the center, and the Democrat off to the left. Were that to happen, there could be sufficient shift to make the race competitive for all three candidates.
And there is a further, as yet untapped reservoir of support on which Trump might draw: the industrial working class, a segment of the Democratic base that has lately rallied to Bernie Sanders. The anxieties of many who support Sanders revolve around losing jobs to globalization and the apparent rigging of the rules against them by Big Business and its political allies. Trump has already talked at length about these problems, albeit in rather vague language. Yet it is a message that clearly resonates deeply with a significant segment of voters who definitely don’t vote Republican right now. Trump in a three-way race might just offer the representation this group has failed to get from either of the established parties.
These various factors would all leave Trump’s presidential aspirations a slave to fortune. And for now, this all still seems like a long shot. Yet politics is about the realm of the possible. And if this election cycle has shown us anything it is that the realm of the possible has been expanded widely.