Donald Trump makes wonderful headlines as he trashes the Republican party primaries in the United States. He says he’s angry at everyone and doesn’t care who gets offended by his tirades. To hell with policies, it’s show time! Despite the reality TV theatrics, however, his path to a general election victory in November is as difficult as climbing Mount Everest in flip-flops.
|Very, very long odds of him becoming president|
History and the numbers are against him. First the history. Americans have never, ever elected an extremist of the left or right as president. Ignoramuses, fools, crooks yes. Some of them have managed to find their way to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. But candidates representing only fringe elements, no. Strom Thurmond in 1948, Henry Wallace in 1948, Barry Goldwater in 1964, George Wallace in 1968, Ralph Nader in several campaigns, and Ross Perot in 1992. Goldwater helped dig his own grave in 1964 by famously declaring “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice.” The Democrats had a field day with that statement, forcing Goldwater onto his back foot for the entire campaign by making extremism sound like a very dangerous word. The famous Daisy ad complete with an atomic explosion highlighted the campaign against extremism. In that election the American voters showed what they thought of extremism by electing Goldwater’s opponent, Lyndon Johnson, in a land slide.
People are angry now. But believe me they were even angrier in 1968 when the twin assassinations (Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King), Vietnam, the Weathermen, Black Panthers, Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia, riots in Paris that ultimately forced Charles de Gaulle from power were threatening to tear societies apart. In that American election year George Wallace, former governor of Alabama, ran a fiery campaign appealing to much of the same demographics as Donald Trump – angry white men who felt left behind by the march of minorities and the so-called ‘Big Government’. Wallace wound up getting 13% of the popular vote and 45 electoral votes. Richard Nixon, who had been around for ever as a right wing California congressman, vice president, failed presidential candidate, wound up getting elected.
|George Wallace was angry in 1968|
The numbers are also stacked against a Trump presidency. A candidate has to win 270 of 535 electoral votes to become president. In theory the electoral college serves to protect the interests of smaller states. It is possible, but difficult, to lose the popular vote, as George W. Bush did in 2000, and still win. Each state is awarded two electoral votes representing the equal number of senators each state has. The rest of a state’s electoral votes are apportioned according to the number of congressmen it has in the House of Representatives. The District of Columbia (Washington, D.C.) was given three electoral votes. All but two states have a first-past-the-post system whereby a candidate who wins the popular vote in a given state wins all that state’s electoral votes. Nebraska and Maine use proportional representation.
Despite the efforts to keep small states in the game, the system clearly favors large states. California, for example has 55 electoral votes, one for each of its 53 members of the House of Representatives and two for its two senators. My home state of Vermont, on the other hand, gets only three electoral votes because we have but one congressman and two senators. This puts Vermont on a par with the likes of Alaska, Montana, South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, and Delaware. You can see why candidates don’t spend a lot of time campaigning in those states.
The problem for Trump and other screamers from either side is that the big states tend to vote for main line candidates. Right now these states with the exception of Texas, tend to vote Democratic. Even states that were solidly Republican like Virginia and North Carolina are turning from solid red to purple. That means any Democratic candidate starts with the huge advantage of California plus most, if not, all of the heavily populated Northeast, and key Midwest states like Michigan and Illinois. It is also extremely difficult to see any of the current Republican candidates winning Oregon or Washington state. By my count this gives any Democratic candidate almost 200 electoral votes of the required 270 before the counting has even begun. Obviously, some Republicans have broken this strong hold, but only by appealing to the broad center of the electorate. And there is not a Republican in sight who appeals to this key group – represented by what I call the extremely sensible and smart ‘Ohio soccer mom.’ She may well vote Republican from time to time, but there is no way in hell she will cast a vote for either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz.
So sit back, enjoy the theater as Trump flails around the country destroying the traditional Republican party. But he might want to hold off on his plans to re-decorate the White House. In this environment, it is easy to understand why former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg is considering a run. While the odds are strongly against him, he is the only one of Hillary Clinton's potential opponents who has even a slim chance of blocking her trip to White House.