The Road to 2016: The Case for Donald Trump

Disclaimer: Matt McDaniel, the author of this piece is a candidate for the First District City Council Seat in Baltimore City. While this rankings list does not touch or concern Mr. McDaniel’s race, in the interest of disclosure, Mr. McDaniel has made no endorsements of any candidates and has received no money or funding from any of the candidates on this list. His campaign website can be found here.


Introduction: This series is a bit of a follow-up on the candidate bios we ran at the outset of the GOP primary season. With the race better defined, folks are looking for a more in-depth analysis of the major candidates and the state of the campaign as a whole. That said, my goal in “The Case For” series is to highlight the major candidates still in the race and present a (hopefully) objective look at each and what he or she could/should/might do to win the nomination. To be clear, none of these posts are an endorsement of any particular candidate. Rather, take them as a snapshot of the race and where the campaigns are at the moment.

A Brief Bio

Let’s be honest, we’ve all heard of Donald Trump. The 69 year old billionaire real estate developer and business owner from New York is a household name whether you like him or not. To Trump’s credit, it seems like he doesn’t really mind about being liked, rather, for Trump, it’s about name recognition.

Born on June 14, 1946 (author’s note, Donald Trump and yours truly are birthday buddies), Trump was born in Queens to developer Fred Trump. The younger Trump was sent to New York Military Academy then attended Fordham University for two years before transferring to the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School where he obtained his bachelor’s in economics. Trump received four student deferments from the draft for Vietnam and one medical deferment.

Trump’s business career is the subject of most commentaries about the billionaire. While still in college, Trump began his development business. These enterprises continued and grew over the next decades. Trump’s estimated net worth is between $3.3B and $8.7B depending on the metrics used to estimate property values and non-liquid assets.

Though Trump had persona-based fame before his debut on NBC’s “Apprentice” reality show, it was this outing that saw Trump’s name and brand entrench themselves in America’s pop culture lexicon.

On June 16, 2015, Trump announced his bid for the White House. Trump had flirted with the idea in the lead up to the 2012 Presidential Election (and even as far back as the 1988 election).

The Current State of the Race

While polls show Dr. Ben Carson narrowing the polling gap between himself and Trump, there is very little doubt that Trump is currently, at least from a measured polling perspective, the frontrunner in the Republican race. Trump has led most every GOP poll for well-over 100 days and has proved most every rule of political gravity wrong.

Trump’s favorable numbers among Republicans has generally plateaued after a considerable rise following his announcement of his candidacy. With between 23% and 27% of the national GOP electorate choosing Trump as their first choice, Trump’s lead on the race is considerable, but in no way is it predictive of the overall outcome of the race. The reason for this is that many of the delegate apportionments in state primaries will require a candidate to get over 50% of the vote in the state in order to take all of the apportioned delegates to the national convention. In order to secure the nomination, a candidate must receive over half of all the potential delegates nationwide. Therefore, if Trump stays at the head of the pack, but is only getting about 30% of the possible delegates, there is very little chance that he could have an outright win in the nominating convention.

The inner-workings of the Party notwithstanding, Trump is proving to be a formidable force in this primary cycle. Trump’s branding and name recognition, as well as the apparent novelty of his campaign, have drawn huge ratings for any network broadcasting about the billionaire. This has made for a considerable amount of free publicity for Trump and has resulted in Trump being able to spend his money on ground game operations and branding initiatives. Trump’s greatest success in this election has been to show that the 24-hour news media that craves clicks, views, and ratings is more-than-willing to sacrifice equal time to cover Trump. Covering Trump brings in the money to the station and brings Trump’s brand to voters. This symbiosis has resulted in a damp blanket being thrown over the remainder of the Republican candidates for the majority of the past three months. While there are signs that this pattern is changing, the damage (see: Walker, Governor Scott) may have already been done.

The Upside

The upside of Donald Trump’s campaign is clear: he cannot be bought. Whether you agree with this statement or not is largely irrelevant to the overall point that Trump is running as an outsider and knows how to win against the DC political class. Specifically, the juxtaposition of outsider, politician-buyer, Trump and Hillary Clinton, a consummate insider with a spider’s web of mega-donors, would be beneficial.

The Downside

The downside of Donald Trump is that there has been, up until this point, very little in terms of substance to Trump’s campaign rhetoric. Certainly “we’ll do great things and win again” is attractive in a time when America’s image around the world is tainted and the Obama Administration has generally presided over an, at best, anemic economy. However, “I’m mad as hell” only really works until voters look to real policy adjustments and changes that could benefit them. To Trump’s credit, he has put forward an economic plan that is no less fanciful than some of the other plans that are floating around the GOP primary. However, much of Trump’s plan relies on that little bit of “magic Trump dust” that will convince businesses and manufacturing to repatriate. Though Trump’s business acumen is generally well-regarded, the concrete plans do not appear to be part of the path Trump has put forward.

Lest we whistle while passing the graveyard, Trump’s numbers among Hispanics and Latinos are dreadful. Trump’s numbers among women are bad. Trump’s numbers among millennials are bad. Regardless of the rhetoric, the Trump team understands that there is a considerable image problem for Trump outside of a primarily white, primarily blue collar, voter base. Certainly elections have been won with this type of support before, but the growing demographic shift in the United States does not make this a winning strategy next year.

What the Other Side Will Say

The cacophony of voices on the other side have already started to target Trump in earnest. From a rodeo clown to a comic book villain, the portrait of Trump is done in caricature. The attempt is to make a Trump presidency seem unfathomable or something out of a television show. This has been relatively successful in stopping Trump’s favorables from rising.

The Path to the Nomination

In order to win the nomination, Trump needs to get his poll numbers above 50%. If we assume that the current trends will hold through the winter, Trump will likely finish in second or third in Iowa and then take New Hampshire. Trump’s strategy in Nevada is tough because we can already see that Marco Rubio needs his first strong showing before Super Tuesday.

Though Trump may be leading in South Carolina, it’s unlikely that the delegate split will be a boon for Trump even if he wins the plurality of the statewide vote. Trump’s big play will actually come in Florida and Ohio on March 15. If Trump can pull Florida away from Marco Rubio, that would be devastating to the Florida senator’s chances at being able to secure the nomination outright. Trump will also need to worry about Ted Cruz who has been silently tailing the Trump momentum and is looking for big wins in South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas and Texas.

Should You Bet Money on this Candidate?

Political pundits have been consistently, frustratingly, wrong about Donald Trump since he announced his candidacy. Frankly, he’s the frontrunner right now and a lot of the GOP base is fed up enough to decide it’s time for a complete outsider. That said, I don’t think that Donald Trump has the delegate math in place to be the nominee in a field of just himself versus Rubio, Carson, and Cruz. Just my two cents, but feel free to disagree.

Matt McDaniel

Attorney and Political Commentator

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