Think that Donald can’t possibly become president? Here’s how it could happen.
Here’s a month-by-month guide of the signs of a looming Trump victory.
Sign #1: Bernie Sanders keeps winning primaries, while Trump eggs him on.
Sanders’ surprise victory in Indiana almost certainly guarantees that Hillary Clinton will be battling the Vermont Democrat all the way to the convention. And it’s not at all unlikely that Sanders will win other states on the road to California (such as West Virginia or Oregon). This is a big opportunity for Trump. Imagine: He echoes Sanders’ talk on trade while amplifying the idea that Sanders’ supporters are being cheated by a “rigged” process, paving a road for Sanders’ fanatics that leads directly into the Trump camp. In Indiana, 30 percent of Sanders voters said they wouldn’t support Hillary Clinton if she were the nominee. If Trump can take even half of them in Indiana and beyond, that’s a major advance.
Sign #2: #NeverHillary Takes Off.
It’s not at all clear how large the #NeverTrump contingent is. But more worrying than its size is that the crowd consists of writers and professional talking heads who have lots of contacts with producers, pithy quotes and earpieces at the ready. Trump needs some counterprogramming—and good news for him, if there’s one thing Donald Trump is a master at it’s creating new, shiny Internet memes. Why not make #NeverHillary his own? He might even peel off at least a few of these #NeverTrumpers to focus on #NeverHillary instead, like Reince Priebus did last night. In any event, if #NeverTrump is still a “thing” by mid-June, he’s in for some trouble.
Sign #3: No other prominent Republican is accused of conspiring in the Kennedy assassination.
I mean, what was the point of that? Trump, already a likely winner in Indiana, didn’t have to mention a kooky National Enquirer conspiracy to keep things interesting. And in the end, the tactic did even more damage to his party—giving a number of Trump haters a convenient excuse to abandon the GOP. Which means that for the next two months, the presumptive nominee will have to resist every urge and impulse to troll his fellow Republicans. If he can do that, he’ll go far in bringing his party together—setting the GOP up for a solid general election performance. Even the moderate Senator Susan Collins said she could support Trump if he avoids “bizarre” behavior and “gratuitous personal insults.” Good luck with that.
Sign #4: Trump hires campaign veterans.
He’s already started this with people like Paul Manafort and Ed Rollins (who’s joined the pro-Trump SuperPAC), but he’ll need a few more hires to show he’s really serious about winning. That’s not to say he should bring in all the geniuses, as he calls them, who led the GOP to defeats in the past two elections. But he will need to bring on board people who know the basics about organizing in 50 states, arranging GOTV efforts, monitoring recounts and negotiating media advertising rates. Also it wouldn’t hurt to have a few more people around who understand the daunting electoral math ahead.
Sign #5: The Third Party effort languishes.
Currently a not insignificant number of spurned Republicans think running as a third-party candidate is a good idea—as long as someone else does it. Trump should hope that the effort is all talk, and no action. (You know, like what’s gotten D.C. Republicans into this mess in the first place.) If a serious third-party contender fails to materialize by the end of spring, then Trump has had a good first month or two as Republican standard-bearer.
Sign #6: Trump targets the Rust Belt.
The electoral math is not difficult. Trump, or any Republican for that matter, can’t win the election unless they turn some Obama blue states red. For Trump, with his populist economic message, his best chances are places like Michigan (which Obama won by 9 points in 2012), Ohio (which Obama won by 2), Pennsylvania (which Obama won by 5), and Wisconsin (which Obama won by 7). None of those victories was by an insurmountable margin. A telling sign of Trump’s prospects for electoral success is if he shows he understands that, spending the bulk of his time campaigning in places like Pittsburgh or Toledo, or even Flint. Perhaps he can even chip in to replace lead-infested water pipes there.
Sign #7: Trump’s vice presidential pick is not a complete, mismanaged disaster.
The best-case scenario: Contrary to expectations that he’ll have his potential VP sit across a table in a boardroom doing demeaning tasks while audience members vote on the winner, Trump instead arranges a methodical, professional, low-key process to vet and interview potential running mates. There will be many people advising Trump to pick a solid Republican officeholder who will soothe the wounds of Trump opponents. Others will urge a woman in the foolish belief that will magically solve his gender gap issues with Clinton. If those are his top considerations, he’s asking for a summer disaster.
Trump needs a running mate who can assure nervous Republicans (and independents) that this guy—how shall we put it?—isn’t a few Trump steaks short of a full cow. All of which means it’s probably not in Trump’s interest to pick someone who’ll pull a Kasich (“I may be on the ticket, but it’s not an alliance”) or who will only half-heartedly support him (“I don’t think he’s that bad. Probably.”) He needs someone who can make the case for Trump with sincerity.
On paper, Marco Rubio might be a good fit (Obama won Florida by a single point in 2012, and both Trump and Rubio have significant ties to the state), but only if there’s a way that he can convince himself Trump is able to do the job. That likelihood grows with every news cycle that moves us away from memories of “Little Marco.”
Sign #8: Hillary Clinton stays the course.
Trump’s prospects would be strengthened if by midsummer, Clinton, worried about her Sanders supporters, has shown little more than a half-hearted effort to reach out to Republicans. In short, Trump needs to hope for Clinton to stay the safe, conventional candidate who lost to Barack Obama. Her speeches need to remain anodyne and uninspiring, with pandering, focus-group language that screams “career politician.” (A sample line from her last memoir: “From the moment I first held Chelsea in my arms in the hospital in Little Rock, I knew my mission in life was to give her every opportunity to thrive.”) Her policies stay conventional; she enunciates support for, say, tax increases and bigger government programs. Her VP choice proves dull and idea-deprived. In short, if a majority of voters remember what they don’t like about Clinton in the first place by the time the conventions come around, Trump may be poised for a November surprise.
Sign #9: FBI-email scandal grows, or the mainstream media takes Juanita Broaddrick seriously.
These are the sort of “wild cards” that undoubtedly will be keeping Clinton campaign advisers up at night—like for the next six months.
Sign #10: Trump overperforms in first debate with Clinton.
Trump will head to the debate with Clinton with expectations so low that if he shows up with matching shoes on, pundits will call it a win. If he actually demonstrates that his knowledge of foreign policy isn’t limited to countries where members of the Mar-a-Lago staff were born, and refrains from using the National Enquirer as a fact-checking source on the national debt, then he may well emerge from their confrontation a far more credible commander in chief. Think that’s impossible? Just ask Sarah Palin.
Sign #11: Polls show Michigan or Pennsylvania in play.
If a number of polls show at least one or two of the key Rust Belt states in play—like within the margin of error—then Trump really could pull this off.
Sign #12: Someone (Ivanka?) changes Trump’s Twitter account password.
And she doesn’t tell him what the new one is.