Is Donald Trump Inevitable?

It’s the question we’ve all been asking. Some of you asked it earlier than others. I’m asking it now. Is Donald Trump inevitable?

Even though coming into February he led every poll of the month’s four contests — Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada — it was foolish to say he was inevitable even before the voting began. In fact, I didn’t even have him as the most likely nominee as of the last Power Rankings on February 1. Too much could go wrong for this candidate. There was no way he was inevitable.

Then, however, very little went wrong. Last night’s debate showed us that his opponents have finally accepted the gravity of the situation.

Is he now inevitable, considering he went from a second place in Iowa to three straight wins heading into Super Tuesday? Or can he still be stopped?

Either way can be convincingly argued.

Donald Trump is the inevitable Republican nominee.

You know it. I know it. We didn’t want to believe it, but it’s happening. Donald Trump is going to be the Republican nominee, and there’s no stopping it. Just look at the numbers!

Here are the percent totals of the five remaining candidates in each of the first four states, and then in parentheses how they ranked in the total field:

Trump: 24, 35, 33, 46 (2, 1, 1, 1)
Cruz: 28, 12, 22, 21 (1, 3, 3, 3)
Rubio: 23, 11, 23, 24 (3, 5, 2, 2)
Kasich: 2, 16, 8, 5 (8, 2, 5, 5)
Carson: 9, 2, 7, 4 (4, 8, 6, 4)

In the first state (IA), Trump finished in second with a quarter of the vote. He won in the second and third states (NH and SC) with about a third of the vote. In the fourth state (NV), he won with nearly half the vote. That is a candidate trending up, up, up. As we’ve seen historically, leading candidates benefit from a “runaway effect.” Candidates who get out to early leads gradually extend that lead because A) later voters trust the early states’ decisions, B) people love voting for a winner, and C) the party consolidates around the frontrunner. It’s happened before, and clearly it’s happening again.

True to form, he’s surely about to extend his lead in four days. Trump is most adored across the south and mountain west, and those states populate Super Tuesday:

March 1, 2016 Alabama 47 / 3 / 50
March 1, 2016 Alaska 25 / 3 / 28
March 1, 2016 Arkansas 37 / 3 / 40
March 1, 2016 Colorado 34 / 3 / 37
March 1, 2016 Georgia 73 / 3 / 76
March 1, 2016 Massachusetts 39 / 3 / 42
March 1, 2016 Minnesota 35 / 3 / 38
March 1, 2016 North Dakota 25 / 3 / 28
March 1, 2016 Oklahoma 40 / 3 / 43
March 1, 2016 Tennessee 55 / 3 / 58
March 1, 2016 Texas 152 / 3 / 155
March 1, 2016 Vermont 16 / 0 / 16
March 1, 2016 Virginia 46 / 3 / 49
March 1, 2016 Wyoming 26 / 3 / 29

Alabama. Arkansas. Georgia. Oklahoma. Tennessee. North Dakota. Wyoming. These are states where Trump can run up the score. He also hit 50 percent in a recent Massachusetts poll. (Massachusetts!) He’ll even compete against Cruz in his massive home state of Texas. Trump’s delegate lead is big now, and it’ll be even bigger on Wednesday morning.

Meanwhile, we can’t forget that he’s already up by double digits in nearly every national poll. Considering A) his great February, B) the fact that he leads in most states across the country, and C) his imminent Super Tuesday triumph, there’s no reason to think he’ll ever lose his big national lead. We also can’t forget that people who get drunk on Trump never sober up. They’re hooked and much less likely to jump ship than supporters of other candidates. His lead will likely grow as more give in to the certitude that is a Trump nomination. It’s his world; Republicans are just living in it.

But wait. There’s more.

Not only is he an inevitable nominee, but it’s increasingly clear that he gives the Republicans a great shot in November. The same people who thought he never had a shot at the nomination are now saying the same about his general election chances. With their last ounce of fleeting credibility, they’ll point to his record high unfavorables, near total alienation of the sizable and electorally important Latino minority, and his inability to win over the moderate independents who decide elections. “There’s just no way,” they said.

But that’s exactly what they said six months ago. And four months ago. And two. “There’s just no way.” And yet it’s happening.

Consider that his likely Democratic opponent also has huge unfavorables. Consider that independents have an extremely skeptical opinion of her. Consider that Latinos are voting for Trump over Cruz and Rubio, candidates who are, you know, Latino. Conservatives and evangelicals are voting for him even though he’s the most liberal candidate in the field. Moderate and liberal Republicans are voting for him. Thus, not only can he turn out the Republican base in November, he can turn out the center, too. That combination gives you a Trump presidency. Even if it didn’t, it’s clear that Trump is creating totally new voters — disenfranchised, un-formally-educated, and mad-as-hell Americans who feel like their own party keeps losing battles in Washington as the country burns all around them. He won’t just turn out the Republican base, he’ll expand it.

A year ago, no one could believe a Trump Administration would happen. Few wanted to.

Now, it’s inevitable.

Donald Trump is not inevitable.

Don’t listen to that clown up there. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Donald Trump is not at all inevitable. Just look at the numbers!

Exhibit A) National polling.

Sure, he’s been up in national polling for six months, but the traditional “runaway effect” of a leader who extends his lead simply does not apply in this case.

I encourage you to scan down all the national polling since December. Compare Trump’s national numbers then with the most recent polls. There’s no noticeable change; mid-30s (give or take 6) then, mid-30s now. Even with this great February under his belt, Republicans across the country have not actually converted to Trumpism.

This is no surprise. It’s what many pundits, including the shamelessly self-promotional Presidential Politics for America, have been saying this entire time. Among Republicans, he has much worse favorability and “second choice” polling than Rubio. Look no further than the most recent national poll, which is the only one to be conducted at any point after Nevada. Trump’s 31 won it by 11 points, but if you combined first and second choice numbers, he had 42 percent to Rubio and Cruz’s 39 each. And that’s with a full head of February steam!

As candidates drop out, it’s Rubio that stands to gain a lot more than Trump.

Exhibit B) Head-to-Head with Rubio

There seem to be three remaining realistic scenarios for the 2016 Republican Primary. 1) Trump wins early and often to the point where he can’t be caught. 2) Cruz, Kasich, and Carson withdraw in early spring, leaving only Trump and Rubio. 3) Two or three of those also-rans don’t drop out, raising the likelihood of a contested convention.

As seen in Exhibit A, Trump is not going to achieve #1. That leaves us with 2 and 3, both of which are unfortunate scenarios for Trump. In the case of #3, the contested convention, you have to like the party’s ability to manipulate the process in Rubio’s favor. However, it’s way too soon to talk about a brokered convention more than I already have.

As for #2, thanks to Trump’s ceiling and Rubio’s considerable room for growth, you have to like Rubio in such a mano-a-mano scenario. Check out some numbers from a recent NBA/Wall Street Journal national poll, which asked “Could you see yourself supporting this candidate?” and “Can you not see yourself supporting this candidate?”:

  1. Rubio 70/28
  2. Cruz 65/33
  3. Trump 56/42

Even though Trump won the poll, Trump suffers from a much lower ceiling than does Rubio. And if it did come down to a head-to-head between the two, the poll found that Republicans would vote for Rubio at a 57/41 split.

Remember, the anti-Trump field had been split 16 ways. That number has fallen to 4. Soon it will be 2, and then it’ll be 1. Rubio will be the 1, and the above numbers show you what happens after that.

Exhibit C) The Calendar

This is an argument I’ve been making for months. The most complete explanation was in my Power Rankings from January 4, but the gist of it is:

  • The calendar starts with states where Trump is strong, but the later, larger, delegate-rich states are better for Rubio.
  • Meanwhile, early states award proportionate delegates, where later states allow for winner-take-all.
  • By those later states, the field will be thinned and Rubio’s strong favorable and second-choice numbers will give him a huge late push after the early states go for Trump and Cruz proportionally.

That’s pretty much exactly what’s happening. Late deciders have broken strong for Rubio, and soon we’ll get into states that are nothing but late deciders. My February Power Rankings reiterated not only these points, but previewed the exact scenario we’re experiencing. I fully allowed for Trump to not only have a great February, but a strong early March as well. This was anticipated.

Exhibit D) The Big States

Let’s look at those big states. We can never forget that to win the nomination a candidate needs to win a majority of the 2,472 delegates at the national convention. Winning the big, highly populated states is crucial in that effort. So how does Trump look in them? Let’s take a look at the nine biggest:

California (172 delegates): Last poll–Trump 23% (2nd place). Late blue state. Primed to rally around Rubio if he’s closing strong.
Texas (155): Slew of polls, Trump mid-20s (2nd place). Primed to vote for Cruz on Super Tuesday.
Florida (99): Trump strong in the polls, but Rubio gaining, especially with Bush dropping out. Rubio cannot be ruled out of winning his home state on March 15.
New York (95): I’ll give Trump his home state, but a poll from earlier this month had him at only 34 percent in it. He’d need to win over 50 percent to run up the score.
Georgia (76): I’ll give him southern Georgia, too, but he’s only at 35 percent.
North Carolina (72): Three February polls, Trump averages under 30 percent.
Pennsylvania (71): Trump in the low 20s.
Illinois (69): Trump at 28 in the only February poll.
Ohio (66): Trump at 31, Governor Kasich on his heels.

Even with 56 total contests in the Republican Primary, just these nine states comprise 35 percent of the total delegates available. It’s hard to see how Trump gains a majority of delegates without winning some of these with more than 40 percent of the vote. He’d have to win many smaller states by big margins to make up for it. So far, his results don’t approach such margins.

Ultimately, there’s just too much resistance to his candidacy. Sure, he looks strong now, but either Rubio will catch him after the field fully winnows to two candidates, or we’re headed to the convention, where the party will do whatever it takes to nominate Rubio. In either case, Trump is most certainly not inevitable.

So now that you just saw PPFA straddle both sides of the argument, you might be wondering what we really think. The truth, of course, is somewhere in between. The fact that I think it’s in between reveals that I do not think he’s inevitable, but his nomination has never been more realistic.



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