Wednesday, August 03, 2016
Will Donald Trump Drop Out?
News yesterday in the New York Times were showing a Republican Party that was beside itself. In the wake of arguably the worst week of any major party's nominee's life (honestly-can you think of another week like the past week for a major party's nominee?), Trump derided Gold Star families, made dangerous mis-pronouncements on foreign policy, and somehow got into a fight with a baby. Additionally, he derided multiple powerful incumbent Republicans, including Sens. Kelly Ayotte and John McCain, both in tight races this November, and refused to endorse Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Reports circulated on social media that the campaign staffers are despondent over Trump's actions, including news that Paul Manafort has basically started phoning in his work as chairman of the national campaign and that the staff is "suicidal." This has all led to two major worries and frettings for the Republican Party: do they abandon Trump, and is there a risk of Trump dropping out of the race, causing the Democrats to have an 11th-hour issue that could derail their own candidate, who has had issues of her own on the campaign trail (that interview this weekend about the Comey report was a joke, and everyone knows it but Trump got in a fight with a baby and a grieving mother, so no one noticed it)?
There are two questions here, and one of them is actually worth seriously considering, in my opinion. The reality is that there are some Republicans who are just finishing up their primaries (Ayotte, McCain, and Ryan couldn't afford a defection prior to that for fear of a Tea Party surge), but may be in a place where denouncing Trump and hoping that their personal brand is strong enough to survive wouldn't be the worst idea, but that comes with an extraordinary amount of risk. The reality is that Trump still does relatively well amongst Republican voters if you look at the polls. Most Republicans are voting for him, but the polls show that not enough of them to make up for Clinton's superior numbers with Democrats and Independents. Therefore, abandoning a man who is popular with voters you need (and make no mistake-McCain, Ayotte, and even Ryan need those voters) is a risky game. This is not an easy situation for any of these Republicans to be in, admittedly. It's very clear that Ayotte and McCain, whether because of the tenor of his campaign or the actual issues, can't stand Trump but they also can't endorse Clinton or even endorse Gary Johnson without a clear retribution from Trump, who would surely cost them their seats if he could convince enough of his voters to skip that line on the ballot. That's what I see as being very likely in a scenario where Trump is abandoned by a great number of Republicans-you could be in a situation where Trump is now against both party establishments, with his army of supporters (I'd put 30% of the country as being strongly in Trump's camp, based on both polling and intuition) going to the polls only to vote for Trump. That would be a disaster for Republicans, as those races would give Democrats a major advantage, perhaps enough that they could hand both houses of Congress to the left. Additionally, if Republicans were to say, get behind Gary Johnson it's unlikely there would be enough defections even if Johnson became viable to make up for the Clinton campaign's superior numbers with the Democratic Party. If the window for the vote moves from 50% to, say, 45%, Clinton is next-to-impossible to beat because she's already there. The Republicans will have abandoned Trump to save themselves in future elections (perhaps a noble pursuit), but they'll have been shellacked in November to the point where they'll have to rebuild for years to try and recapture their majority. It's such a risky move, and the party has been averse to risky moves (they didn't stop Trump in the primaries or at the convention, where it would have been considerably easier), so my guess is they skip such a proposition.
The second bullet point is the sort of situation where the Democrats wake up in a cold sweat each day between now and the election. They know that Hillary Clinton, at this point, is only winning because Trump is losing-she's an accomplished woman, and I think would make a fine president, but the email scandals were a nightmare, and that Comey press conference would have sunk literally any other candidate on the campaign trail were it not for the Trump idiocy. The idea that Trump, at some point, will drop out has been a worry for months for both sides (it'd be a mess for the Republicans as well), but it's become more of a pronounced worry now that the conventions are over and it wouldn't lead to a messy brokered convention. John Kasich, Mike Pence, or Ted Cruz could all end up as the nominee in such a scenario, but it's worth noting that there are no legal ways to end this campaign without Trump's consent. Trump has won the nomination and the GOP spot on every state's ballot-that's what the convention did legally a few weeks ago. Getting him off would require him to actually quit. Now, Trump has a history of quitting projects, this is true, but it's hard to believe that he would give up such a pulpit, particularly since he knows that he holds more cards over the GOP than they do on him. Some speculate that Trump talking about the election being "fixed" is his way of eventually saying "Well, I can't win because it's fixed, so why should I run?" but I view that more as a way for him to cover his tracks as the election winds down and he eventually loses. I'm not saying this is impossible, and some more connected than I have put this out into the universe, but even in an election cycle where we have said ad nauseam that "things are different" the idea of a major party's nominee dropping out simply to help the party win seems pretty much unthinkable to me, particularly considering the hit that would happen to Trump's ego. It's also impossible to think that Trump would go quietly, or that he wouldn't call his supporters to stay away from the ballot box if someone he didn't like (read: anyone but himself) were the nominee, which is an entirely different quagmire. I would buy that Trump would avoid the debates or that even Pence would drop out before Trump himself would abandon such a position of power, something that he will never approach in the future (the GOP isn't going to let him do this again). Never say never, but I feel like this is beltway postulating more than anything else.