Donald Trump has outpaced his closest competitors, lately winning 34,531 votes in the Nevada caucus — more than the sum of the second- and third-place candidates, Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. March 1 is Super Tuesday, when many of the Southern states will vote, representing a robust package of delegates the winners will take to the Republican convention in Cleveland.
So by Wednesday morning the situation will be clearer, but as of now we can say that Trump seems on an unstoppable march, so much so that prominent neoconservatives are calling him victor and threatening to vote for Hillary Clinton.
The possibility of recovery by Marco Rubio, the preferred establishment candidate, seems remote. Trump is now the favorite thanks to a combination of factors that the other Republican candidates have not understood or have not been able to control: first and foremost the extreme frustration of voters.
After eight years of stagnating wages, the employment recovery masks the permanent expulsion of millions of Americans from the labor market. The white working class no longer believes the promises of conventional politicians. “They feel isolated, without help, victims of powerful forces they do not understand that have taken over,” Noam Chomsky says.
As a scapegoat, Trump offered them immigrants and Muslims, cleverly making proposals so provocative they’re in fact unfeasible — the deportation of 11 million immigrants, the construction of a border wall paid for by Mexico, the denial of entry to Muslims.
Then there is the political frustration. The base of the Republican Party has never accepted the legitimacy of the Obama presidency, and its mobilization has yielded victories in the by-elections of 2010 and 2014, which brought Congress under Republican control. Despite this, party leaders delivered none of the things they promised daily: repealing health care reform, rejecting gay marriage, outlawing abortion. Hence the rebellion of the base, which has found in Trump “the strong man” it was looking for.
Finally, as Napoleon said, the warrior must also be lucky, and Trump, to date, has been. Rarely have candidates aspired to the White House who were as inept as Jeb Bush, as lacking personality as Rubio, as detested by the party as Cruz or as insignificant as Chris Christie and John Kasich. The billionaire’s success, in addition to his political instinct for striking a resonant tone, is also linked to the mediocrity of his opponents.
That said, the elephant that symbolizes the Republican Party seems able to digest even Trump. It’s a myth that victories are decided by the candidates’ personalities. In a country politically split in two, voters vote almost precisely according to their physical location. For decades the South and the Great Plains have voted Republican, and the Northeast and the Pacific Coast vote Democratic. The last time California voted Republican was almost 30 years ago; the last time Kansas voted Democratic was in 1964. In Utah, Democrats are a curiosity; in San Francisco, they practically show Republicans to tourists, alongside their panda.
That’s why, in November, everything will be decided by eight swing states: Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Iowa. The last three are generally favorable to Democrats: The last time Pennsylvania gave a majority to the Republicans was in 1988. New Hampshire and Iowa, and possibly even Nevada, are contestable but are more likely to remain in the Democratic camp.
To get to the White House, Trump will have to win, at all costs, Florida and three of these four states: North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, Colorado.
Possible? Yes, but for the moment both Clinton and Bernie Sanders appear more credible in a general election. In 2016, anything can happen, but so far the Republican primaries showed a state of severe confusion in the party. This favored Trump and probably will allow him to win the nomination. Winning the election in November is another matter.