Thursday, June 9, 2016

Trump's Nomination is Not a Done Deal

I'm not a political pundit.  I'm an investment manager.  Don't take what I say here as anything more than one man's view. As always, I welcome comments and criticism.

Let's get a few things straight.  First, I'm not a supporter of Donald Trump.  Second, I'm still eating a piece of humble pie after my post earlier this year when I said I didn't think he would win the nomination.  Third, I continue to believe that even if he really gets the nomination, he won't win the general election.

Let's leave the general election to one side.  There is about a six week window between now and the Republican convention.  A lot can happen now and then. Even so, I'll stick my neck out a bit further and say here that much can go wrong for Mr. Trump when delegates assemble in late July.  Here's what to look for.

A Chorus of Un-Endorsements
Senator Mark Kirk, a Republican from Illinois, was one of the first, if not the first, to step forward and say that after reconsidering his view, he's come to the conclusion that Mr. Trump is unfit to be President.  Take that in context, however.  Mr. Kirk is from a state that tends to vote for Democrats.  He holds the Senate seat that was vacated by Barrack Obama.

Still, Mr. Kirk is not alone.  More than a dozen Senate Republican's have been critical of Mr. Trump especially after last week.  Mr. Trump came under heavy fire after criticising a Federal Court judge on the basis of the judge's Mexican heritage.

While we're on the subject of judges, let's get one thing straight.  Judges don't just make up rules arbitrarily.  They don't run cases on whim or by the seat of their pants.  Being a judge is serious business.  I know this because I come from a family of lawyers and because the course of an international career has introduced me to legal systems not only the US but in several European countries.

In any functioning democratic system Judges are guided by a set of clearly written rules and legal precedents. Judges write lengthy comments that cite the legal reasoning behind their opinions.  Potentially any ruling they make can be questioned an appealed in a higher court.  Mr. Trump's comment about the judge serves only to show how little respect Mr. Trump has for the judicial system and the intellect and professional quality it takes to become a judge, especially a federal court judge.  That alone makes me wonder how good a job Mr. Trump will do when it comes to interviewing and selecting future Federal Court judges.

Senator Kirk is hardly alone in retreating from his pledge to support Mr. Trump if he eventually wins the nomination.  In the wake of Mr. Trump's criticism of the judge, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said "This is the most un-American thing from a politician since Joe McCarthy. If anybody was looking for an off-ramp, this is probably it. There’ll come a time when the love of country will trump hatred of Hillary.”

Politicians Running for Cover

In presidential elections the "coat-tail" effect is often talked about.  The coat-tail refers to the tendency of voters to vote for an entire slate of candidates, including the presidential candidate and all those in the same party.  When a candidate has long coat tails the slate of candidates tends to do well.

Judging by the number of Republicans either speaking out against Mr. Trump or distancing themselves from him there is evidently a strong feeling among Republican that Mr. Trump will have difficulty at the ballot box.  Particularly those Republicans who are at risk of losing in the general election want to avoid the possibility that Mr. Trump will be a liability rather than an asset.

The Labyrinth of Convention Rules

A few days before the Republican convention starts 112 delegates will gather to determine the final rules for how the convention will operate.  Literally, they set the rules of the game.   The rules must then be approved by the full convention before the nominating process can begin.

Donald Trump's first problem actually began long before he even declared himself a candidate.  The delegates to the convention are largely composed of party leaders, many of whom worked tirelessly for other candidates.  These delegates are bound to support Mr. Trump on the first round of balloting, but they aren't bound to select a package of rules that will not allow at least a challenge to the first round of balloting.

Mr. Trump's second problem began when he started winning primaries with his populist rhetoric and divisive language he created plenty of enemies within his own party.  He may have won the popular votes, but he is far from popular within the party. Many senior and influential Republicans have said they would not attend the convention.  That might be their publicly stated stance, but that doesn't mean these people won't be working behind to scenes to set the stage for a convention that does not finally approve Mr. Trump's nomination.

So Where Do We Go From Here?

The next few weeks will be critical for Mr. Trump.  The party can be as much his friend as it can be his undoing.  Mr. Trump needs to mend fences and adopt a tone and protocol that demonstrates he will not be a liability in the general election.  In short, he needs to lose his ego. He needs to usher in an era of good will, make policy concessions and adopt a tone and style that convinces the political establishment he can be counted on and that he won't jeopardise their interests and their candidacies in other elections.

Mr. Trump should think seriously about having not just a slice of humble pie, but a meal full of humble pie. If, in the coming weeks, if Mr. Trump rebrands, himself, ingratiates himself, takes on a more politically acceptable tone, and makes a bridges a serious set of policy differences he has a good chance of sailing through even choppy waters at the convention.

If not, he will most certainly face a serious challenge at the convention.  Even if he manages to overcome that challenge, the damage done would probably ruin his chance to win the general election.  The Republican party line will read something like "Vote Republican even if you don't vote for Trump."

For those of you who want to read more, here's a selection of articles I found interesting.
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