If you’re rooting for Donald Trump, you’re likely saying to yourself that the media is biased against him and that the polls aren’t reliable and that, sure, he may have a tendency to say dumb stuff but in the end he’s going to win the election because people hate Hillary Clinton. You’re right about all of that except for one thing — at least according to Ari Rabin-Havt, one of the leading political analysts of this or any century.
What follows are the key points Ari made last night when I asked him if Trump could win. This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Note and disclosure: Ari is a Democratic-leaning friend and had me on his radio show yesterday. He also took me out for a drink last night, which is when he told me everything here. But none of that diminishes his expertise or my claim that he is one of history’s greatest political analysts. Also, I don’t always agree with Ari — I hate Republicans and Democrats equally, for example — but he’s smart and he usually knows what he’s talking about.
Q1: Does Trump have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning the election?
A: No, barring a miracle or something totally unexpected.
Q2: Why not?
A: Presidential elections are often decided by inflection points. John McCain came out of the conventions in 2008 a little bit up on Obama but then the economy crashed. That was his chance to shine — he was promoting himself as an experienced elder statesman — but he flailed around and meanwhile Obama showed himself to be steady and reliable, and that’s what people were looking for. The polls separated and Obama won in a landslide. Who knows what would have happened without the economic crisis but it made Obama look like a leader.
Q3. So there no hope at all of a Trump resurgence?
The problem for Trump is, what’s going to be his inflection point? A terrorist attack or an economic collapse are the only possible scenario that allows him to win. But even a disaster probably isn’t good for him. People will want stability and leadership and that’s not his strength. His message is, “We’re All Going to Die.” He wouldn’t be able to pull off the reassuring and responsible role. The same is true if the economy drops.
The conventions could have been a chance to turn things around but it didn’t happen. He could destroy her during the debates but that’s very unlikely. He did fine in the Republican debates but he’s not going to do well during a one-on-one with Hillary Clinton. He wouldn’t even debate Ted Cruz one-on-one and with good reason: You can’t maintain all that bullshit when you’re only debating one person. He desperately needs something to change the narrative and every time he gets a chance he screws it up.
Q4: Come on, there must be some way Trump can come back?
A: Look, he doesn’t even have a real campaign on the ground, he can’t go a week without screwing up and people generally like Barrack Obama. Remember, people hated George W. Bush during the 2008 election, which hurt McCain. In 2008, the economy was going off the rails on the evening news every night and solders were dying in Iraq everyday. There are certainly critiques of the Obama administration, and long term structural problems with the economy — like manufacturing jobs leaving — but compared to eight years ago its night and day, so you have an Obama approval rating above 50%. So when Trump attacks the Obama administration he is attacking something popular.
Q5: Ari, you can’t be serious. It’s really that bleak? Please lay out a few more problems for Trump.
A: Another problem for Trump is that he and the GOP establishment are so incompetent. Their only message is that they hate Obama and liberalism, they have no agenda other than that. Trump’s entire campaign was built listening to the conservative media, people like Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham and Dinesh D’Souza and now they’ve hired the head of Breitbart to run the show. He’s living inside a very small bubble. He rose up politically through the Birther movement and with help from the right-wing press and the idea that he’s going to be able to pivot away from his whole past in the general election is wrong. He’s a demagogue and that was fine during the primaries but now he’s preaching to a relatively small slice of the electorate.
The guy is running George Bush Sr.’s campaign from 1988 in 2016. Bush used the Willie Horton ads and other scare tactics to terrify white voters. But Bush wasn’t openly racist and Trump is. You can’t win an election in 2016 when you’ve margins alienated African-American and Hispanic voters and are going to lose those groups by huge numbers.
The problem for the GOP and conservatism is that since the fall of communism, they’ve lost the central tenant of their ideology. Francis Fukuyama wrote a book called The End of History and for the Republicans it really was the end. They’d been living off of anti-Communism since the end of World War II. They tired to use terrorism in the same way, but it doesn’t work. You could at least try to paint the old Democratic Party as being soft on Communism but you can’t paint the new Democratic Party that’s a really thin straw to grasp at. So all they have left is anti-liberalism.
Q6: OK, how bad is it going to be, in terms of the popular vote and the Electoral College?
A: The electoral map is totally screwed for him. Everything has to break his way and that’s virtually impossible. In terms of the popular vote, he probably won’t fall below 46 percent but he’ll top out at 49 percent. Green support is going to fall away and the Libertarians too, though they may get a few points. But whatever Trump gets, Hillary’s going to get more. His problem in the polls is not that he’s losing, it’s that his peak is Hillary’s valley. He’s not been able to get ahead other other than for a day or two. It’s a big problem for Trump.
BonusQ: Hey Ari, this is great. Do you mind picking up the tab? I forgot my wallet.
A: Sure, it’s my donation to your wonderful new website, WashingtonBabylon.com
[Note to readers: If you’d like to follow Ari’s lead, click on this link.]