Predicting the future is a perilous business full of errors hilarious and tragic. Even this blog has not been immune from prognostications that prove to be erroneous in hindsight.
Nevertheless, I will hazard a guess about the coming election year. The prediction is this: Trump is a serious threat. I know it’s a bit of a cop-out, but the fact is that while it’s easy to see that Trump is indeed a threat, what is not so easy to see how the many factions he threatens will react to Trump. I predict that because Trump appears to be such a dire threat and threatens so many, his candidacy will lead to the greatest upheaval in American electoral politics since the election of FDR to the White House.
In short, I see three distinct possibilities. One is that Trump secures the Republican nomination. The other is that Trump does not secure the nomination but then runs as a 3rd Party Candidate. The final possibility is that Trump loses the first few Republican primary contests and then quickly fades away to political ignominy, leaving us all wondering what the hell was happening for those 6+ months of Trump-Mania. If the latter happens, then I will of course have been proven wrong in my prediction for this coming election season–but I will be so happy about Trump’s demise that I won’t mind being wrong so much. If the former two events transpire, then all bets are off and we could see a fundamental transformation of the American electorate.
I’m not sure Trump will get the Republican nomination in the end. It very well may end up he loses Iowa and New Hampshire, never regains momentum and disappears to ignominy (if not obscurity) and we will look back on that 9 month-odd long period of Trump-mania as a period of mass hysteria as inexplicable as the Salem Witch Trials. Indeed, that is in a sense the best of the most likely scenarios I can foresee, since the actual best case scenario (as I outline below) is incredibly unlikely.
However, there is now a very real possibility that Trump can secure the nomination. It remains unlikely, I think, but if he manages to win even a single primary his chances improve tremendously
The prospect of a Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders presidency is very troubling indeed, as is the prospect of a Trump presidency. They would each be horrible in their own ways, but which would be worse is difficult to fathom. It’s a bit like asking who you would prefer be president: Stalin or Mao? Clinton and Trump are obvious Caesars in the making; even Sanders has a certain crypto-Caesarism about him, though bizarrely the self-declared socialist is the least threatening of the three. I mean, I can easily see Trump going complete Tin-Pot dictator and declaring himself (in a lavish, gold-plated ceremony no doubt) President For Life. I am also able to envision the amoral and power hungry Hillary Clinton using the massively expanded power of the executive–through even more sinister, underhanded means and probably with more nefarious ends in mind–to substantially subvert the Constitution, if not entirely.
So here’s my real prediction, though I will freely admit this is a very, very long shot, and more wishful thinking than a prediction. My prediction is that if Trump secures the GOP nomination, he will have the substantial backing of about 40% (perhaps even half) of the Republican electorate but the other half will despise Trump. In short, the long overdue split of the Republican party will commence. If he does not secure the nomination–especially if it is widely perceived he was “cheated” out of the nomination–there is a damn good chance he will run 3rd Party. Then, as it becomes clear that Trump has the general election in the bag and can easily defeat Hillary Clinton, a coalition will form around Rand Paul as the alternative candidate–potentially propelling him to the Oval Office.
As Rand has trumpeted from the hilltops to anyone who will listen, he has more cross-party appeal than any other Republican–which is not just a candidate’s spin, it is actual fact. While many Democrats probably wouldn’t like his stance on guns* or economic issues, Rand’s moderate stance on gay marriage and abortion (federalism, in a word) and his great strengths in matters of civil liberties, criminal justice reform, the war on drugs, wars overseas, and other libertarian(ish) stances will make him palatable enough to enough Democrats that they will vote for him as a means of defeating Trump.
There are a few independent variables in the matter. The lesser concern is the Democrats. Will they abandon Hillary Clinton if it becomes clear that she will lose to Trump? Hopefully Democratic voters will be pragmatic and they will rally around the better (in every sense of the word) candidate, Rand Paul.
It is possible that Hillary Clinton will not be running by the time the general election, either because she was forced to drop out or dropped out of her own volition. Perhaps Clinton will have been indicted, but I am very skeptical that will come to pass due to the teflon coated nature of the ruling class in general and the Clintons in particular. More likely (only slightly) is that her candidacy will have died the death of a thousand cuts and gradually–between her emails and other scandals, her general dishonesty, her general lack of appeal and campaigning skills, and the greater sincerity of Bernie Sanders–her campaign will lose steam and supporters. Even if she remains in the race, it is still entirely possible that her supporters will desert her or not turn up on election day and it will be clear that the fight for the nomination damaged her candidacy beyond repair–leading to a flight of Democrats to the Rand coalition.
The other variable in the election is Sanders. Most likely is that Hillary Clinton vanquishes that dragon before she herself is vanquished. The prospect of Sanders surviving late enough to see Trump secure the nomination or run 3rd Party and precipitate the break-up of the Republican Party cannot be ignored, however. If that happens, it will be impossible to predict how Sanders will react. He might go for broke and go all out for the Democratic Nomination–arguing (not un-persuasively) that the only suitable Democratic response to something so radical as a Trump candidacy will be something equally radical: himself. He might also magnanimously accept an offer to be Hillary’s VP, though if the campaign arms race of nastiness continues to escalate, before too long Sanders may hate Hillary Clinton more than he does the Republicans…which brings me to the most exciting possibility for Sanders: he becomes Rand’s VP on the Alternative Ticket.
Such a move, I think, would be as brilliant as it is logical. It would be, in effect, the same as the British Conservative Party going into coalition with the Liberal Democrats: while they might not see eye to eye on every issue, they both agree that Labour (Trump) must be defeated at all hazards. Rand already appeals to many Democrats; with Bernie as his VP, it would persuade many Democrats not just to like Rand but to actually vote for him. Certainly it would be a ticket with more sincerity and anti-establishment bona fides than anything else liable to be fielded–with the exception of Trump’s ticket (at least in terms of anti-Establishment bona fides). Rand however may also choose fellow Republican Ted Cruz as a means of securing to him as much of the former Republican electorate as he can.
The other independent variable (and the greater problem) is that while half of the Republican Party (the authoritarian half) will be united (around Trump), the other half will be divided–among Hawks and Doves, Establishment vs Grassroots, secular vs evangelical. The Rand Anti-Trump Coalition may be able to gain only a fraction of this second half, depending on how the remaining Republicans react.
It is entirely possible that–if and when the Republican Party fragments–the Establishment will not sign on to the Anti-Trump coalition of Rand and Bernie but will instead field their own candidate. This is especially likely if they finagle Trump out of the nomination and anoint their favorite as the nomination via chicanery, gross or minor. Marco Rubio is most likely to get the nod as the “official” Republican candidate, if they (the Republican Old Guard) abandon their heretofore favorite son, Jeb Bush (and given Jeb’s lackluster campaign, best described as a series of implosions and mis-steps at tremendous expense, this does seem likely, though he may yet be tipped as the VP). Chris Christie may yet also gain the patronage of the Establishment in this scenario of Republican Party fragmentation–dependent on his performance in the primaries.
I think a Rand-Bernie (or even a Rand-Cruz) coalition would be a very powerful force, one sufficiently strong to defeat Trump–especially if Rand’s recently regained momentum holds or even builds, as it well may. However, for this coalition to form, an extraordinary series of events entirely unprecedented in American politics will have to occur–nothing short of the near total disintegration of the two-party system will suffice.
A split in the Republicans has long been overdue. Since the end of the Cold War, really, the coalition of “fusionism” has been crumbling and should have been dissolved outright in 1992 (when Perot cost Bush the First his re-election bid). The libertarian element within the GOP was consistently ignored in favor of the war mongers, the Big Business cronies, and the moral crusaders (the Christian Evangelicals, who, if Mike Huckabee is anything to go by, are the antithesis of libertarian). This made the GOP ripe for a libertarian insurrection (as evidenced by Ron Paul in 2008 and ’12). The latest Republican debate, with at least 6 pro-war, anti-civil liberties candidates on the stage and the conspicuous absence of Rand Paul, is proof that the Republican Party is now nothing more than a party of authoritarians; the primary is merely a contest between the Insider Authoritarians (Rubio, Christie) and the outsider authoritarians (Trump, and possibly also Cruz, since he is an outsider who regularly changes his position on the authoritarian-libertarian scale).
Libertarians should leave the Republican Party entirely–as should anyone who is not a crony capitalist and a Hawk. Certainly, the people who have rallied to Trump’s colors are prepared to leave the GOP; after so many years of being betrayed by the Republicans in power, there is a good reason why so many Republicans are so enthusiastic about the “outsider” Donald Trump.
Sadly, however, all this is barely more than a pipe dream. In all likelihood Rand will do very badly in the coming Iowa Caucus and will be forced to drop out before even getting a chance to perform well in the New Hampshire Primary. Even if he survives to New Hampshire, odds are that Iowa will be his last hurrah. Once Rand is gone, the chances of him coming back onto the American Presidential Stage are about as slim as Barry Goldwater’s chance of doing the same. With Rand gone, the US presidential contest is a very dismal scene indeed. It features nothing but corporatists and war-mongers, authoritarians and moralizing preachers, most of whom are corrupt and dishonest. Indeed, the field is so dismal, it says a lot that the last best hope (in the two major political parties at least) for liberty-minded voters is the socialist, Bernie Sanders.