Billionaire businessman officially clinches party nomination for US presidency after months of acrimonious campaigning.
To say the 2016 race for President of the United States has been unusual would be a massive understatement. Very few people in Washington or in capitals around the world thought that businessman Donald Trump would actually be the Republican candidate. Now he is and it seems likely he could continue to turn conventional wisdom on its head.
Trump has had a very bad couple of weeks. He is sinking in the polls and the establishment has been abandoning him in ways that have never been seen before in American politics. Fifty of the most respected Republicans in the fields of National Security and Intelligence turned their back on the presidential candidate for their own party. They said that if elected he would be “the most reckless president in the history of the country.”
There are several media reports that the candidate and campaign are falling apart. So now the question is – what’s next?
There are a couple of ways this could play out over the coming weeks and months.
Trump has three big chances to turn the polls around in the upcoming presidential debates, which will be watched by tens of millions of Americans. But the format of the debates seems to hit his weaknesses as a candidate. He is very good at firing up a crowd with his off the cuff remarks, but you just can’t do that in debates – the format doesn’t really allow for it.
In the presidential debates, knowledge of the intricacies of issues both foreign and domestic is necessary.
Trump has bragged about the fact that he doesn’t think he needs to study or consult experts so it seems unlikely he is going to focus much on studying up.
He has given several indications that he might skip the debates all together. So far he has complained about the schedule and indicated that he won’t appear unless he agrees to the choice of moderator for each debate. He has been very clear on his hatred of the media and his belief that they are not treating him fairly. All of which could be seen as him telegraphing his “out”.
We are starting to see signs that the Republican Party establishment could abandon its candidate and focus all resources on trying to keep control of both chambers of Congress.
The right-leaning Wall Street Journal has even put a day on it, saying that Trump has until September 5 to start acting “presidential”, and if he doesn’t, the party should stop all of its support. This move could give Trump an excuse to quit. He has already been complaining openly about a “rigged system”. He has said that if he loses it will be because Clinton “stole” the election.
Trump has repeatedly addressed about how humiliating it would be to lose to Clinton. “Can you imagine that?” he asked the audience at a rally last week.
I recently interviewed Michael D’Antonio, a Pulitzer-prize winning author who wrote a book about Trump and his “pursuit of success”. According to D’Antonio, the thing that Trump fears most in life is humiliation. If Trump believes that he will be humiliated on Election Day, he could decide it would be better to quit before the first votes are cast, while blaming a “rigged” system that would keep him from winning.
If Trump doesn’t quit, the Republican National Committee could try to force him off the ticket. The committee’s rules give it a way to do that, but it seems unlikely that it would take such a drastic step.
If Trump leaves on his own, the party could hold a kind of convention on Skype to pick a new nominee, although it is quickly running out of time for that option. In many states, the dates have passed and it is no longer possible to change the name of the chosen candidate. In many cases, the courts would have to decide if a vote for Trump could be transferred to “Candidate B”.
There have been several reports that Trump has promised his advisers that he is going to change and get on message. He did use a teleprompter at Monday’s foreign policy speech and he seemed to refrain from going off script.
And although he has changed his tone, his policies remain the same. We will see in the coming weeks if that is enough to turn the tide of public opinion in Trump’s favour. If it isn’t, the biggest surprises of the 2016 Presidential race could still be yet to come.