Monday, July 27, 2015

"How Does Trump End?," asks... article in Politico over the weekend, "16 experts from across the political spectrum share their predictions." And it's a good question: does Trump’s unprecedented campaign end? Will Trump fizzle out soon, or endure for months? Will he succumb to pressure from the RNC, the GOP establishment and other candidates? Or only earn more attention as the race drags on? And is Trump ever truly “done”—or would he jump back into the race as a third party candidate?

Since I don't think anyone knows the answers to any of those questions -- including Donald Trump -- allow me to take a stab at them.

First of all, let's get the obvious out of the way: Trump will never be president of the United States, will almost certainly not be the Republican nominee and -- sorry fellow Democrats -- probably won't run as an independent either.

(Why not that last one? Because Trump is, if nothing else, a smart businessman who won't spend down his fortune on a fool's errand that wouldn't buy him even one electoral vote.)

So where does that leave us? Let's start with the first debate a week from Thursday. According to Bob Shrum:

Trump is ripe for a Bentsen-Quayle moment in the first debate. Bush, Rubio, et al—no longer reticent in the face of Trump’s pandering to the basest elements of the base, the “crazies”—are preparing the putdown right now. The question is who gets the right opening first.

Okay, fair enough. But, (A) Trump comes back with his own zinger; or, (B) he takes aim at his tormentor(s) in the following few weeks. I'm betting that Trump isn't taking the debate too seriously and isn't preparing as well as he should. But even if he gets caught flat-footed (unlikely, as he's a pretty experienced street-fighter) Trump has shown he can return fire on other candidates, dragging down their numbers.

(Also, if everyone gangs up on Trump it will (A) make him look like the frontrunner, and/or (B) elicit some sympathy from viewers. Either way, it's not a good strategy for the others.)

Shrum goes on:

But one candidate who won’t be looking for the opportunity is Cruz; he’s angling to take the reins of Trump’s buckboard of bigotry when Trump falls off and then ride it to the nomination. 

Prediction: Ted Cruz will drop out of the race before Trump.

According to Mary Matalin:

Once he gets to the debates, he will have to connect his bombastic iconoclastic antics to authentic policy prescriptions.

Is she serious? There will be ten candidates on the stage for two hours. When you figure in commercials, moderator questions and candidate answers, there won't be a whole lot of time for actual policy discussion. Besides, trying to pin down Trump will be next to impossible. He'll be able to filibuster his way out of any specifics.

Back to Shrum:

Trump can be scorched in the debate; but he won’t flame out because he won’t run out of money, even if he is a few billion shy of ten. He can hold on indefinitely, and he’s not the type to recognize reality and retreat from the race. In the end, denied a nomination he can’t win, there’s a more-than-reasonable chance that he pulls a Perot and runs as an independent.

And from Joe Trippi:

Never, ever ever underestimate Trump’s staying power and ability to dominate media attention. In a field this large he could be around for a long time—potentially a lot longer than many of the other GOP candidates who have derided his chances of being their nominee. On running as a 3rd party candidate—someone should remind the GOP that Trump is a tough as nails negotiator and he would have plenty of leverage. How long? As long as he wants.

My prediction is that Scott Walker wins Iowa (and that's it -- one and done) and Jeb Bush takes New Hampshire. (Winning Iowa takes organization, which Trump doesn't have; winning New Hampshire takes credibility, which he also doesn't have.) By that point the party should rally around Jeb as the inevitable nominee and while Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and maybe Rand Paul stick around a little to make it interesting (and audition for VP), the cake will be baked. By the middle of February next year it will be clear that it's Jeb vs. Hillary.*

(What about Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, Chris Christie, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Carly Fiorina, John Kasich, Bobby Jindal, Lindsey Graham, George Pataki and Jim Gilmore? Half of them won't last until Christmas and the other half will be gone after Iowa.)

As for Trump, once again I think he's too smart to fall for the third-party trap. But he can hold on indefinitely and dominate the media, threatening an independent bid or just harassing Jeb and Hillary until the November election. Heck, if Trump really wanted to get mischievous, he could endorse some third party candidate or even . . . Hillary. There's no telling what he might do. But go away any time soon? Don't bet on it. He's having too much fun.

* With Hillary the favorite.

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