During a recent trip to Boston, I was surprised by the range of passion — from total joy to utter despair — that people I met felt toward Donald Trump.
Trump’s vocal supporters could almost taste victory. They loved the promise by the billionaire running for the U.S. Republican presidential nomination to “make America great again” and cheered his cruel, bigoted and demeaning comments against Mexicans, Muslims and his major opponents.
At the same time, Trump’s critics were in sheer panic, fearing the bombastic celebrity could win the Republican contest and go on to defeat the Democratic nominee, likely Hillary Clinton, in November.
With the marathon presidential race just days away from its first voting stage, Trump appears to be on a roll. Nationally, he has been leading the 12-person Republican field for months and is in first place in both Iowa and New Hampshire. Iowa will hold its caucus meetings on Feb. 1 and the New Hampshire primary is Feb. 9.
But can Trump really win the Republican nomination?
The answer is easy: No!
To date, Trump has dominated this election. He has exploited the anger and fears felt by many Americans toward immigrants, Mexicans, Muslims, terrorists and the economy better than any other Republican or Democratic candidate. These voters believe the U.S. is on the wrong track and they are sick of career politicians.
To them, Trump is a hero.
However all this bully talk won’t help Trump in the long run. The reasons are plentiful and obvious.
First, despite leading in polls with 25-30 per cent nationally, Trump is actually the most unpopular candidate of all, including Republicans and Democrats. His negative ratings among Republicans swamp his positive ratings, putting him dead last in his own party, with only Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who is battling Trump in Iowa, coming close.
Second, Trump has little room to grow support beyond his core backers. His second-choice polling is terrible, meaning few Republican voters will switch their support to him as other candidates drop out. Instead, their support might go to former Florida governor Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Ohio Gov. John Kasich or Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
Third, Trump fares badly against Clinton in one-on-one polls, worse than almost every other Republican candidate. And he rates poorly with women and independents. If there’s one thing mainstream Republicans want, it’s a winner in November. They could easily turn against him en masse if his poll numbers against Clinton remain dismal.
Fourth, Trump’s ground game in Iowa, which involves paying organizers to get Trump supporters to show up for the caucus meetings, is reportedly extremely weak. His “team” is also a mess in New Hampshire and elsewhere. Any vote result that fails to meet early expectations will be deemed a defeat and could have ripple effects in later state contests.
Fifth, not a single major Republican politician, no state governor and no member of Congress, has endorsed Trump. The absence of such endorsements does matter because it signals to traditional Republicans a lack of respect for Trump among party leaders. Also, they are important for the success of candidates in state primaries where influential Republicans can promote a candidate and have their own campaign teams help organize get-out-the-vote efforts.
Sixth, he has been endorsed by Sarah Palin, the wacky Republican vice-presidential candidate of 2008. While this may help him with voters who like outsiders or “mavericks,” as Palin likes to think of herself, it does nothing to help Trump expand his base. In fact, it only solidifies his image as a nutty extremist.
Seventh, if Trump wins in Iowa or New Hampshire, he will come under even more intense scrutiny over his outrageous comments and actions. While such coverage won’t affect his diehard supporters, it’s certain to solidify his negative ratings among the broader Republican electorate to whom he must appeal in order to win the nomination.
So take heart, all you Trump-haters. The road to the White House is long and littered with past front-runners who won either the Iowa caucus contest or the New Hampshire primary, but fizzled in later primaries and subsequently dropped out of the race.
As has happened in every other race, the field will coalesce around one or two candidates more favourable to the wider Republican electorate that wants to capture the White House, not make a statement.
By then, Trump will be history.