Conventional wisdom says he has no chance. But what if he blows up all the old rules?
Leave it to Al Sharpton to come up with the most compelling analogy for Mr. Trump: another New York promoter.
“The best way I can describe Donald Trump to friends is to say if Don King had been born white he’d be Donald Trump,” Mr. Sharpton told Politico earlier this year.
Mr. King, of course, was the wild-haired boxing promoter who put on epic fights that included the 1975 “Thrilla in Manila”—the third and final time Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali met in the ring. Like Mr. Trump, Mr. King was accused of links to organized crime, invoking the Fifth Amendment in a deposition to Senate investigators when asked. Like Mr. Trump too, Mr. King has been sued by a number of his former associates, including Mr. Ali.
Before Barack Obama, Mr. King even supported George W. Bush.
For years Mr. King dominated his industry by combining an outsize personality with a willingness to blow up the rules. It is a similar brashness and defiance of convention that make Mr. Trump such a wild card today, which also suggests why it’s probably premature to write him off for November—assuming he will be the Republican squaring off against Hillary Clinton.
Let’s run through the arguments:
• Mr. Trump has high negatives. Notwithstanding the manifest enthusiasm of Trump voters for their man, they often fail to appreciate that he may turn off more voters than he turns on. Real Clear Politics puts the average of his negatives at 63.2% That would help explain his failure thus far to break 50% in any Republican primary, and it justifies worries about how he’d fare among, say, Latinos and women come November.
But Mrs. Clinton has very high negatives too. Her own RCP average is 53.9%.
Whom would the voters regard as the lesser of two evils? A candidate who is dishonest and untrustworthy at a political moment when distrust of government is ascendant? Or a candidate who is crude and inexperienced at a time when the terrorists we face are organized and sophisticated.
David Plouffe, who managed Barack Obama’s successful 2008 campaign, has been warning Democrats not to take a Clinton victory for granted in the event Mr. Trump is the Republican nominee.
He has also consistently reminded Democrats that the coalition that sent Mr. Obama to the White House—including women, minorities and young voters—is not one Mrs. Clinton can take for granted. She needs to earn their support, he says. Right now the Bernie Sanders wins are highlighting some of her soft spots, including with young women.
• Mrs. Clinton will use her knowledge and experience to make Mr. Trump look like an ignorant yahoo. Maybe. But again there are two caveats.
First, presidential matchups do not score like Oxford Union debates, and Mr. Trump plays his own game. For example, when Mrs. Clinton was readying the sexist meme against him, Mr. Trump took it away from her by bringing up the Bill Cosby-style allegations of rape and sexual misconduct against hubby Bill Clinton.
Who’s to say he won’t do the same in the debates? (“Did Goldman Sachs pay you to say that, Hillary?”) No one can know how Mr. Trump would debate Mrs. Clinton—or how voters would react.
Equally to the point, though pundits give great weight to candidate debates, plainly voters do not. In 2004 John Kerry demolished George W. Bush in the first debate, and the next two were generally given to him on points. But he still lost the election.
• Mrs. Clinton is a formidable candidate. The truth is, we don’t know how Mrs. Clinton would fare in a no-holds-barred debate with a tough challenger—because she’s not faced one in this primary. From the way the Democratic superdelegates have been awarded, to the number and timing of debates, the entire primary season has been orchestrated to serve Mrs. Clinton’s interests by a party that is mostly in her pocket.
This is why the last man standing is an angry, white-haired socialist. And yet the former first lady still can’t put him away. What does it say about large dissatisfactions within the Democratic Party that this cranky old guy continues to pull out victories?
In the long stretch between now and Election Day, many events could affect the outcome. More terror attacks Ã la Brussels or San Bernardino. More setbacks in Iraq or Syria. More belligerence from Vladimir Putin in Ukraine. And of course maybe even a Hillary indictment. Does anyone think any of this will help Mrs. Clinton?
Sure, it’s possible the GOP front-runner will implode, just as it’s possible all those polls showing Mrs. Clinton with a double-digit lead over Mr. Trump will indeed come to pass. But some of us who never thought he would get this far are a little more reluctant to be so categorical about an election that is still seven months away.