With only weeks until the starting gun sounds off in Iowa, it’s time to face some hard truths. In particular, the truth we’ve all denied for months as we chanted, “Trump can’t win” into the wind like a mantra. I’ve spent most of that time believing there is no possibility of a Trump nomination. And now, nearly eight months after he fumbled onto the scene with a 45-minute improv session in front of reporters, it’s time to come to terms with reality. Trump could be the Republican nominee for president. And his alternative could be much worse.
Professionals all over the country whose job it is to predict this sort of thing are still crunching the numbers, clinging to the idea that he couldn’t possibly win. For them, a Trump victory would come with the same out-of-body sensation that accompanies the experience of being held at gunpoint. The sort of thing that leaves you numb and thinking, “This can’t be real. This only happens to other people.” Last week Vox’s chief-editor Ezra Klein suggested that “Trump could just … not win” and even he wasn’t entirely convinced by that argument. But this seems to be the best anyone can hope for after watching Trump maintain a double-digit lead in the national polls for months. Although, these numbers rarely predict victory in the early voting states like Iowa and New Hampshire, where Trump will need a win to solidify his lead. In fact, many candidates who have lead nationally in the past have lost in the early states. Despite this, Trump has proven to be the candidate who defies all natural wisdom and is leading in all of the early states as well – with the exception of Iowa, where he is in a virtual tie with Texas Senator Ted Cruz.
And so what? Just because the numbers say his supporters will vote doesn’t mean they will show up to the polls. The numbers rarely tell the whole story, and even the most seasoned political gurus will tell you it’s difficult to know anything for sure until the ballots are counted.
So the best thing to do is to sit tight and listen to these experts who tell us to wait it out. But our biggest mistake might be that we continue to judge Trump by traditional standards despite the fact that he is running a campaign unlike any we’ve seen before.
Even if, as Klein points out, there have been loudmouthed fringe candidates in the past, none have had such a tight command of the media. According to the Tyndall Report, Trump has dominated nearly a quarter of all campaign news coverage and CNN has covered the billionaire so closely that he’s only had to release one ad of his own. He routinely draws thousands of supporters to his rallies, and among his greatest strengths is that he’s brought the power of celebrity buzz into the campaign by mixing presidential politics with weekly Twitter wars.
I have to admit that I could be weeks away from having to eat my words. But for all the criticism and analysis that has stalked the billionaire’s campaign from day one, Trump has spit in the face of conventional wisdom every time. So if the last hope against a Trump victory is that ‘he’ll just lose,’ then we have to accept that he just might win.
Meanwhile, it’s time for Democrats to fear the alternative. Many are rooting for a Trump victory because they believe Clinton could mop the floor with him. But whether he wins or not the Donald is stirring something fierce on the right, something that could wake up at the end of primary season to Ted Cruz as its only option. The senator is closing in on the lead, and if Trump is like a bull in a china shop, Cruz is the man who sets fire to what’s left and tries to explain why it was all for our own good.
If the conservative movement that Trump has drummed up starts to abandon him, then Cruz could reap the benefits. It would be a second coming of the Tea Party, which has crippled Congress for years. In 2012 this conservative movement sent Cruz to Washington, where he led the government shutdown and has fought tirelessly to repeal Obamacare. In response to the President’s recent action on gun control, Cruz raffled off a shotgun branded with his logo.
The senator’s history in politics suggests that he would lead a relentless assault to reverse everything the Obama administration has done. He leads an uncompromising branch of the Republican Party that forced its speaker to resign for daring to negotiate, and considers a repeal of Obamacare a step forward without offering a practical alternative. While Trump has been criticized by conservatives for supporting Democrats in the past, a victory for Cruz would mean a louder, prouder and unrelenting conservative movement on a level that even Republicans have begun to fear.
“At some point, we have to deal with the fact that there are at least two candidates who could utterly destroy the Republican bench for a generation if they became the nominee,” the former chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Politico.
This election cycle has shown that the populist movement that started with the Tea Party has yet to fizzle out like it’s liberal counterpart Occupy Wall Street. Trump and Cruz are now riding the crest of that wave, and 2016 will be the year that it drowns out the opposition or comes crashing down.