With Donald Trump holding a commanding lead in Republican primaries, Democrats can be forgiven for feeling like all their Christmases have come at once. But it would be a mistake for them to do so.
Virtually all pundits, on both the left and the right, agree that Donald Trump will never be elected President. Despite his strong base of support in the Republican Party, his negatives are so high that he antagonises many more people than he attracts. But Republican operatives are beginning to panic that Mr. Trump may yet get the Republican nomination, and thereby deliver the presidency to the Democrats. Their earlier certainty that Mr. Trump’s buffoonery, lack of a clear programme, and incendiary statements would sooner or later burst his bubble has now given way to a sombre realisation that he isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. As he goes from one outrageous statement to another, and as many observers fear he is beginning to channel the Nazis in calling for such things as special identification for Muslims, his ratings in the Party have only risen. With over a dozen presidential candidates tearing each other apart, the Republican Party seems to be in open warfare. The party establishment, whose loathing of Mr. Trump is no secret and whose undisputed preferred candidate, Jeb Bush, is floundering, has clearly lost control of the party.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the political aisle, things could scarcely look rosier. The Democratic establishment long ago accepted that the nomination this time around would go to Hillary Clinton and, after a brief flirtation with the insurgent candidacy of Bernie Saunders, the party faithful seem now to be coalescing happily around their heir-apparent. Hillary will come through the campaign unbruised, with a full head of steam and full coffers.
However, the optimism one picks up among Democrats seems to be oddly reminiscent of the complacency one gets among stock-market analysts on the eve of a crash. I think the Democrats will come to rue both their easy primary season, and possibly their eventual nominee. For starters, despite Republican panic, I doubt Mr. Trump will get the nomination. Sure, the Donald has double the support of his nearest rival and is holding steady in the face of all efforts to knock him from his perch. But after surging to 30% support at the end of the summer, Trump has hit a plateau, and he hasn’t made any more advances since. Meanwhile, as the campaign of his nearest rival, Ben Carson, has begun to flag, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are gaining steadily. Of those two men, the Party grandees could probably agree to support Rubio, offering the party an electable candidate next year.
If Rubio were to emerge the winner, he would have done so after a season of pretty intense sparring in which he had honed his skills on the campaign-trail. Meanwhile, on the (possibly big) assumption that Mr. Trump opts not to run as an independent candidate after failing to win the Republican nomination, the business tycoon will have still done the Party a favour by drawing a huge amount of attention to its primaries. The eventual nominee will thus be well-known to the American public — and possibly, enjoy the favourable image as the giant-killer who saved America from the Donald.
Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, will be emerging from her primary campaign like an old champion who starts training-camp just a few weeks before the big fight. Being untested in the primary campaign, which the party has helped manage in such a way as to make her ride to the nomination as easy as possible (by, for instance, limiting the number of debates to which she has to subject herself, Hilary will have got little battle-experience. And that’s likely to be a big problem, because an oft-forgotten fact about Hillary is that she has yet to prove herself a great campaigner. To date, she has run in only three election campaigns — two against weak opponents in a safe seat for Democrats (the New York senate seat). And how did she do in the one campaign against a strong candidate, namely Barack Obama? Enough said.
Early indications, such as her tin-eared initial response to the e-mail stories, suggest that Hillary has applied few of the lessons of her 2008 campaign for the Presidency. This primary season is her last real chance to hone her fighting-skills before she steps into the ring next autumn. And if the Republicans end their primary season on a high — with a strong candidate, seasoned in the bear-pits of the primary campaign, and with a huge audience — Democrats may regret their decision to give the nomination to Hillary on a silver platter.
Because, based on past performance, you can never put it beyond Hillary to do just that for Republicans and the White House.