The conventional wisdom about Donald Trump may once again be wrong.
The media-political complex is convinced that Trump has never been weaker, given how badly his handpicked candidates fared in the midterms, and that he’s ripe for a primary defeat. That might be true.
The complex is also convinced that Trump is going to be charged with some kind of crime, while conceding that the odds of that involving classified documents have plummeted after Joe Biden and Mike Pence also found they had such papers. But its members are hopeful that a Georgia prosecutor fighting to keep a special grand jury report secret to protect future defendants is about to indict Trump. That might be true.
Above all, this complex firmly believes the public is so utterly exhausted by Trump and his grievances and his stolen-election claims that there is no way he can win the White House again. That, too, might be true.
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But shouldn’t the press consider the possibility that it’s not?
The notion that Trump will be criminally charged is the hardest to predict, since such deliberations remain secret. But after Russiagate, the first impeachment, the second impeachment, the Trump Org probe and so on, those who crave seeing him in an orange jumpsuit have repeatedly been disappointed. And if Trump is hit with charges, there is little question that MAGA nation would rally behind him and he’d be able to cast himself as a martyr.
As for the primaries, Emerson College Polling shows that the former president remains the front-runner. He leads with 55 percent, trailed by Ron DeSantis with 29 percent, Mike Pence with 6 percent and Nikki Haley with 3 percent. Other recent polls have found similar results.
Now it’s possible, of course, that DeSantis will win by convincing enough Republicans that he offers Trump’s policies without the personal baggage. Or he may turn out to be a stiff and unlikable candidate. Another contender, like Haley or Mike Pompeo, could break out.
But no one is rushing to get in for the next few months. Politico reports that advisers for three potential candidates have discussed the advantages of jumping in at the same time, in recognition of the fact that Trump on the attack “can be lethal.” One GOP insider is quoted as saying a group launch “provides them protection from Trump.”
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I don’t see how that’s true, given that Trump used his pugilistic style to beat 16 rivals to win the nomination in 2016. And multiple rivals can easily divide the anti-Trump vote.
So imagine now he’s the nominee. Is it beyond comprehension that he could beat an 82-year-old president who might be showing increasingly visible signs of slowing down?
That takes us to another part of the respected Emerson poll – which should be discounted because it’s so far in advance of actual voting, but provides an interesting marker.
The poll found Trump beating Biden, 44 to 41 percent, the 3-point gap being within the margin of error, so it’s a statistical tie.
This was touted as a turnaround because in November’s Emerson poll, Biden was leading Trump by 3 points – also a statistical tie, but this is a 7-point swing in Trump’s favor. For what it’s worth, the new survey says Biden leads DeSantis by less than a percentage point, 40-39.
Now I could write a series of columns on why Trump can never make it back to the White House. How his mishandling of the pandemic will never be forgotten. How he has alienated suburban and female voters with attack-dog politics. How he inspired the violence of Jan. 6 and waited hours before lifting a finger to stop it.
How he’s off to an erratic start, with such self-inflicted wounds as dining with Kanye West and Nick Fuentes. How his non-stop insistence the last election was stolen, without any evidence, makes him seem like a self-absorbed loser.
How his casual use of a racial slur, calling Mitch McConnell’s wife Elaine Chao “Coco Chow,” is offensive. How the country doesn’t want another four years of chaos. How for too many people the Trump brand is now toxic.
But I also remember sitting on the set of my show the Sunday before the 2016 election, when virtually the entire world saw Hillary Clinton as a lock, cautioning that there was still some chance that Trump could win.
So is there no way in hell that a former President of the United States could win back his old job, even if that hasn’t been done since Grover Cleveland? I think the odds are diminished if Biden somehow doesn’t make it and Trump runs against a much younger candidate, though the Democrats don’t exactly have a deep bench.
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But is the media-political complex just a tad overconfident in its deeply held belief that Trump can’t eke out another Electoral College win?
I’m not saying it will happen. I’m not saying it should happen. But is it really impossible?