Donald Coming up Trumps in Republican Race

Parliament Street’s Head of Strategy, Nabil Najjar, dissects Donald Trump’s seemingly unstoppable path to the Republican Presidential nomination.

It’s hard to envision three more economically, politically and demographically different states than Michigan, Mississippi and Hawaii. So much so that it is almost unimaginable that one Republican candidate can comfortably win Presidential primaries in all three, yet that is exactly what Donald Trump did on Tuesday evening, taking Michigan by 11.6%, Mississippi by 11% and Hawaii by 9.7%.

Trump’s electoral tour-de-force has both fascinated and beguiled political pundits in equal measure, but in this observer’s opinion, his steady stream of victories, from New Hampshire to Nevada, can be attributed to four key factors.

1. Message:  It is hard to imagine a billionaire from New York City being able to tap into the concerns of the Republican base across the breadth of the nation, but he appears to be managing it. As unnerving as many of us may find the concept of building a wall across the US-Mexico border, or temporarily banning Muslims from entering the USA, these views are resonating with primary voters.  CBS reports on the eve of the primary found that three quarters of Republican primary voters in Mississippi and six in ten in Michigan supported his policies towards Muslims.[1] Most importantly, Trump, and to a smaller extent Cruz, are benefiting from perceived ‘outsider’ status. The American populus are rejecting en-masse the ideologically lightweight, spin-heavy, safe politicians to which they have become accustomed over recent years, opting instead for non- ‘establishment’ candidates unafraid to voice their opinions, no matter how outside the norm they may be. 87% of GOP primary voters in both Michigan and Mississippi stated when polled that they were either ‘dissatisfied’ or ‘angry’ with the Federal Government.[2]

In this regard, the success of Trump, and to an extent that of Bernie Sanders, can be compared to the success of our own Boris Johnson and particularly Jeremy Corbyn, who unexpectedly bested establishment clones like Andy Burnham, Liz Kendall and Chuka Umunna.

2. A split field: The Republican field has narrowed down from over a dozen candidates to four very different prospects; establishment standard-bearer Marco Rubio, the safe pair of hands of John Kasich, southern conservative Ted Cruz and the maverick, Donald Trump; each a very different offering and all with characteristics which both excite and repel. Having four viable candidates with such varied constituencies means that each will attract a sector of the electorate, reducing the total percentage of the vote required to ‘win’ a state. This has allowed Trump to claim victories in key states with only a plurality of votes, in some cases as few as 36%. Whilst this limits the number of delegates he will eventually claim from each state, it allows him to develop and strengthen his claim to the nomination by racking up the states in his column. One can only wonder whether he would have had it so easy had Rubio or Kasich retired from the race before Super Tuesday.

3. Competition for second place: Donald Trump has made much of the fact that, in the handful of states where he has thus far failed to top the ballot, he has never fared worse than a strong second. The same cannot be said of his rivals, who continue to jockey for second place across the nation, allowing Trump to extend his lead in key states. The best example of this can be seen in Michigan, where John Kasich, the popular governor of neighbouring Ohio was largely predicted to run Trump close for first place. Instead, he ended up in a tight battle for a distant second with Ted Cruz, allowing Trump to cruise to a double digit victory.

4. ‘Teflon-Trump’: In a last-ditch attempt to derail his campaign, anti-Trump entities have reportedly spent $38m on television adverts across key states, attacking everything from Trump’s controversial views to his business credentials. Alongside that, Marco Rubio has attempted to revive his flailing campaign by further attacking the frontrunner. Even Mitt Romney, the Party’s Presidential candidate in 2012, joined the attack, denouncing Trump across the airwaves in no uncertain terms. Many felt that this multilateral strike against Trump’s suitability for office, coupled with a campaign to exaggerate the importance of Cruz’ victories in Maine and Kansas on Saturday might finally stymie ‘The Donald’s’ momentum. Tuesday’s results show that, if anything, the opposite has taken place. If such a multifaceted attack on one candidate failed to prevent him winning emphatically across the country, one has to wonder what will.

Trump’s path to the nomination seems well lit at present, and what is left of the power to stop him lies not with second place Cruz, but rather with more distant competition. This coming Tuesday will shape this Republican race, and two states in particular hold the key. Florida and Ohio hold their primaries on that day; both key general election bellweathers; both delegate-rich winner-takes-all contests where he with the most votes will receive every single delegate on offer; and both the home states of Rubio and Kasich. If they manage to win their home states, and in doing so deprive Trump of over one hundred and fifty delegates, it becomes almost impossible for one candidate to clinch the nomination in open play, and the contest will be doomed to a brokered convention. If Trump wins both states however, the consequences will all but guarantee him the nomination. Both Rubio and Kasich will have no choice but to suspend their campaigns, leaving Trump hundreds of delegates ahead of Cruz in a head-to-head contest. As the primaries shift towards major states like New York, New Jersey and California, where Trump measures up very favourably compared to Cruz, the man from Texas’ chances will plummet.

Polls consistently place Trump well ahead in Florida, and with press briefings from his lavish properties across the state beaming into living rooms on a regular basis, I am confident he will win the Sunshine State along with its ninety nine delegates. Ohio is harder to predict, and Kasich, with a 70% approval rating as its Governor, will have reason to feel buoyant, yet Cruz’ stronger than expected showing in neighbouring Michigan threatens to dent his total again, handing Trump both the sixty six delegates on offer and the podium at the Party’s national convention, to be held in that very state later this year. If the Buckeye does manage to hold on, could we be looking at a Trump-Kasich ticket in November?

Cllr Nabil Najjar, MCIPR, is managing director of Delta Strategies Limited, a UK-based political campaigns and communications consultancy.

[1]CBS News reported on March 8, 2016 that: ‘Large majorities of Republican voters in Michigan (62 percent) and Mississippi (75 percent) support temporarily banning Muslims who are not US citizens from entering the country.’
[2] CNN Exit polling reported during live broadcast and reprinted on Newsmax.

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