The ephemeral-we-all-hope success of the Trumpster has Ross Doubthat reduced to shouting comic-book Wagnerism at the uncaring skies. No, seriously — the quote in my title is from his NYTimes explanation of “How Donald Trump Loses”:
… Yes, Trump leads all the national polls, and he keeps busting through what look like ceilings. But (unlike Dean) he doesn’t lead in Iowa, and his ceiling there looks very stable: He’s been hovering around 25 percent since September, and he’s never broken 30 percent.
He does lead in New Hampshire, but there, too, his poll numbers have been relatively flat since August, and he tops out around 30 percent. Likewise South Carolina, where his polling has hovered in the 30 percent to 35 percent range since he grabbed the spotlight last summer.
There is no credible scenario in which a consistent 30 percent of the vote will deliver the delegates required to be the Republican nominee. So for Trump to lose, he doesn’t actually have to collapse; he just has to fail to expand his support. And in the states where candidates are actually campaigning, voters are paying the most attention, and the polling screens for likely voters are tightening, he hasn’t expanded his support meaningfully since he first climbed into the lead.
Foolish pundit that I may be, I don’t think he will. Instead, I think that Ted Cruz will continue to consolidate evangelicals as Ben Carson fades, and someone (probably Marco Rubio) will eventually consolidate the moderate-conservative vote — which is currently splintered among five candidates in New Hampshire, but which if it were consolidated would very easily beat Trump’s total in that state…
Think about it this way: It now looks very likely that Cruz will beat Trump in Iowa, at which point Carson’s campaign will be pretty much finished, and Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum will disappear — and with Cruz suddenly ascendant, he’s likely to pick up their supporters, pushing him up to Trump-like levels in the national polls…
…[I]f we treat New Hampshire as a plausible template for outcomes in those states, then Trump needs Rubio and Chris Christie and Jeb Bush to all stay in the race and for all of them to keep winning exactly 15 percent of the vote; then and only then would his 30 percent be sufficient to prevail…
Which is not to say that in that scenario the establishment candidate will win. Trump is a genuinely disruptive force, and if his coalition holds together it could make genuinely unlikely outcomes — Cruz as the most right-wing nominee since Barry Goldwater, a battle on the convention floor — far more plausible than they would have been without him.
But disruption doesn’t get you to the 1,236 delegates required for the nomination. Loki does not rule in Asgard. And Donald Trump isn’t going to be the Republican nominee.
… As long as Sanctorum and Hucksterbee give up graciously after getting out-organized in Iowa, rather than hanging on to (a) promote their own
grifts non-campaign careers, and (b) punish Cruz for stealing “their” Talibangelical base. And if someone with enough influence explains to Carson that his God was only funning with him, so he needs to go back to working the inspiration circuit. And then Rubio, Jeb, Christie & Kasich play rock-paper-scissors-lizard-Spock to find out which three graciously withdraw, preferably before the New Hampshire primary but certainly in advance of ‘Super Tuesday’ in the South. (As per the top tweet, Fox News seems to be pretending that Rand Paul is the fifth Beatle, but only devout glibertarians have the strength of will to pretend Little Prince Rand is a potential 2016 winner.) And even then, Donald Trump has to resist the urge (& his followers’ urging) to go third-party as The Voice of the People (possibly with attached reality show!).
Among the many things Young Ross failed to learn, in all his years of hanging around rich and well-educated (or at least conspicuously-educated) people, is that the Trickster never goes away. Sure, Loki isn’t sitting at the head of the high table in Asgard… but then, there’s rumors that Loki was around before Odin raven-clawed his way to the top of that bloody Nordic heap, and his folklore outlasted the All-Father long after the Christians claimed a theistic monopoly. Whether or not he gathers the ‘right’ delegates in the ‘correct’ fashion — whether or not he gets bored with his Celebrity Victory Campaign Tour as the shine wears thin and the media find newer playtoys — Donald Trump will be making the Permanent Republican Party unhappy at least through October, and probably for some time after that. There are certainly ways to beat him (and more ways for him to beat himself), but pretending that some kind of Natural Law requires him to shuffle off-stage before the final aria is just… Doubthat-level silly.