Over the past few days the poll ratings of Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump (I can’t believe I just wrote that phrase) have continued to grow, fuelled by right-wing opposition to the Washington D.C. status quo and some ideological agreement with Trump’s statements. Despite this continued growth in popularity the RNC and GOP establishment have continued to be hostile to Trump, probably because recent Quinnipiac polling has indicated that 59% of self-described Republicans who never vote for Donald Trump in a general election.
Last weekend Trump, outraged by the RNC’s treatment of his candidacy, stated that if the GOP establishment “[weren’t] fair” he would consider running as a third-party candidate. Should Trump consider such a move, and what would a Trump third-party candidacy do to the 2016 Presidential Election?
Despite being violently ill every time Trump opens his mouth to reveal the next group of individuals he hates, I can understand the appeal of the New York property developer. People do not think through the lens of a solid and coherent political ideology, most people are somewhat reactionary and think about issues in isolation; Trump’s lack of a coherent ideology has therefore been seen as something that separates him from the rest of the candidates, allowing him to monopolise the right-wing populism of the Republican grassroots that would else have gone to more libertarian or insane candidates like Rand Paul or Ted Cruz respectively.
In terms of marketing himself to the American electorate Trump has been dominating the news cycle and steering the conversation, even in regards to matters of personal integrity and extreme policies such as erecting an essentially militarised fence/wall across the southern border with Mexico.
Also due to his abrasive manner of speech he has managed to truncate any potential support from the Republican base of New Jersey Governor Christ Christie who was seen as the brash outsider, but also has a decent amount of support from within the Republican establishment. By Trump announcing and going on the attack against other GOP candidates, the primary voters who thought Christie’s tone would be welcome in the debates no longer need to vote for him, especially with a series of political scandals haunting his campaign (using Hurricane Sandy money for political purposes, Bridgegate etc.)
In terms of political realities, the idea of Donald Trump running outside of the traditional two-party system is electoral suicide due to the way the U.S. political system is designed. In an ideal world where the electoral college didn’t exist and the President was elected based on a direct public vote, I would have thought that it would be more politically expedient for Trump to run outside of the two-party system. He wouldn’t have to toe any party-line, he could better paint himself as an outsider railing against the Washington establishment, and could easily portray himself as a populist by pointing to his past support for Democratic policies and his current support for more conservative ideas.
His comments on the campaign so far have illustrated that his popularity amongst certain aspects of American society are virtually unshakable; he has public come out as open to waterboarding, declared that most Mexican immigrants are drug dealers, criminals or rapists, and criticised GOP Senator John McCain over his war record despite the fact that he was tortured for five years after his plane was shot down.
All these statements, and the many others that I have omitted, are politically damaging irrespective of how they play the rabid xenophobic base of the GOP. This is probably why Republican donors are so determined to throw their money behind a specific candidate to defeat him as well as why as the RNC have been so frosty when it comes to the issue of whether he will be allowed to be the GOP candidate in 2016.
When it comes to the electoral maths, the outcome is not surprising. A 2014 Gallup poll showed that people who self-identify as Republicans is at a 25-year low with 25% of the American people identifying as Republicans; combined with the 59% of Republicans that have stated in polls they wouldn’t ever support Trump for president, Trump’s minimum vote without considering Independents is 10.25% spread out across the states and DC.
In a straight fight between Clinton and Bush, as was the scenario explained in a ABC News/Washington Post poll last month, Clinton would win 50%-44% in a straight fight against Jeb Bush; if Trump was included as a wildcard, Clinton would win a landslide with a plurality of the vote (Clinton 46%, Bush 30%, Trump 20%). With support coming disproportionately from the Republican vote any GOP candidate will be blown away by almost any half-way decent Democratic candidate.
If Trump was a candidate with deep-rooted political beliefs, he wouldn’t consider running as a third-party candidate because he would not be able to reconcile being the ‘spoiler’ that would open the door for another Democratic presidency; the only problem with this would be that Trump’s lack of ideology is one of his main selling points. As Trump doesn’t identify as a Republican in the strictest sense, and would quite relish the failure of the establishment GOP, an egotistical third-party candidacy is very possible, even if it would strengthen the grip of the Democrats on the White House.
The Democrats are in a wonderful situation either way: if Trump runs as a third-party candidate, they would win in a landslide due to the split of the right-wing vote; if Trump wins the Republican nomination the GOP will be plunged into chaos and many on the libertarian-wing of the party may vote for the Libertarian Party, and other more establishment figures may boycott the election all together. In short, the longer Trump’s bid for the presidency rolls on, the more damaging it will be for the GOP.