Just a week ago, Donald Trump’s improbable bid to be president was looking likelier than ever. Senior Republicans were uniting around him and his poll deficit was closing fast. Hillary Clinton drifted out to 1.58 in the Next President market.
Now, after just a small taste of what his campaign will look like, the handwringing has already begun. In the wake of what were unarguably racist comments about the Indiana-born Latino judge overseeing the Trump University lawsuit, conservatives are queuing up to condemn him.
Some, like Paul Ryan, have made themselves look ridiculous. The Speaker, who originally delayed endorsing Trump, then endorsed him last week, now disavows what he regards as ‘textbook racist’ comments, but says he’ll still support the presumptive GOP nominee. Others like Lindsay Graham feel vindicated by their consistent, principled opposition.
Lindsay Graham calls for GOP to abandon Trump.
— Katy Tur (@KatyTurNBC) June 7, 2016
Critically, even high profile Republicans that once seemed for all the world like surrogates have condemned him. Newt Gingrich, rated 40% likely to be Trump’s VP pick a fortnight ago, said it was one of Trump’s worst mistakes.
Joe Scarborough, host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, gave Trump a much easier time than his rivals during the primaries, but now says his fellow Republicans must start calling his racist comments out today, to avoid electoral disaster down ballot and being destroyed as a true national party.
Apart from destroying the party’s fragile unity and reinforcing perceptions of racism, the effect of Trump’s latest bout of madness is to put a potentially damaging scandal back in the headlines. Regardless of the ultimate case verdict or credibility of his accusers, Trump can only lose from this publicity. Mud sticks. Ask Clinton, who is still attacked over long debunked conspiracy theories from the 1990s.
Nor is this the only scandal in play. Many Americans are attacking the media for giving Trump an easy ride. I agree, at least regarding TV.
When I was in the States for the primaries, it seemed like there was an endless stream of controversies to explore – Trump mocking a disabled reporter, taking days to disavow the KKK, failure to submit tax returns, employing illegal foreign workers on his projects, even accusations of mafia ties.
Yet most of this was lost in the noise of rolling news coverage, and the candidate was rarely scrutinised properly. Instead, voters just saw his name front and centre of every news bulletin, squeezing coverage from his rivals. I was being told by GOP voters even in February that they didn’t know much about Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio. The media were obsessed with two names – Donald Trump and Jeb Bush who, as I predicted months earlier, had no chance.
Notably, the one race where he faced one-to-one interviews – Wisconsin – resulted in daily humiliation and a catastrophic defeat. Afterwards, Trump wisely avoided such potentially disastrous interviews ahead of the North-East contests that got him back on track and ultimately finished the #NeverTrump plan.
Now we can be sure that the Clinton campaign will bombard voters with these numerous scandals until November. Check out this brutal new ad regarding Trump mocking the disabled reporter. Republican leaders and strategists understand this and are rightly terrified about the prospect.
I fully expect to be attacked by Trump supporters for saying this and, whilst I consider this an honest appraisal, do stand to win a lot more money if Ted Cruz were the nominee.
Nevertheless, I have not totally given up hope on Trump being stopped at the convention. As my friend Melissa Caen has been pointing out for the best part of a year, long before the media even mentioned brokered conventions or the rules committee, the RNC has the power to do pretty much anything at the convention.
Sure it would cause a riot but as Melissa explains, the delegates won during the primaries could, theoretically, become unbound from Trump with a rules change. It would be an extreme measure but if Trump continues in his current vein for another month, who knows? At this stage of the process, it is very hard for him to dodge scrutiny as earlier in the race.
I cannot predict the precise mechanism for stopping Trump at the convention and, as the betting implies, any such efforts will likely prove futile. However if you want to take just 1.03 on Trump being the nominee, be my guest. Laying those odds could be worth a speculative punt, as could taking huge odds about the limited number of potential alternatives.
I have just had another nibble on Cruz at 500 – he seems the likeliest beneficiary of any such move. Unlike Marco Rubio or Ryan, Cruz hasn’t humiliated himself by endorsing Trump and has easily the second most delegates.
However I’m not adding it to the portfolio as there is so little money in the market, these odds could collapse in a heartbeat and readers will miss out. But the dream scenario of convention chaos and the associated market mayhem is still just about alive.
Granted, not many stranger things have happened, but this cycle is uniquely strange. Not least this self-inflicted suicide of one of world’s great political parties.