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Eye On Candidates
October 8, 2015

Can Trump Win?

Pundits and political observers of all stripes have been asking themselves whether businessman Donald Trump can actually win the GOP nomination and then the presidency. The Washington Post has an interesting look at another outsider celebrity candidate who managed to get elected, suggesting there may be lessons for Trump in that experience:

Is Jesse Ventura’s unlikely Minnesota win a road map for Donald Trump?

Hopeless campaigns against impossible odds are pet projects for the devoted, the eccentric, the weird, the tinfoil-hat wearers of the American political fringe. They never win — unless maybe if we’re talking about a county commissioner — and this has been the logic that nearly all serious observers have spouted about Trump’s bid.

But once upon a time, in a far northern place called Minnesota, actual grownups with little or no alcohol in their bloodstreams went to the polls and elected a former feather-boa-wearing wrestler and motorcycle gang member as their actual governor….

The article goes on to note that there are real, but perhaps limited, comparisons between Trump’s campaign and Ventura’s:

Both relish showmanship and being in front of the camera. Both deliver blistering criticisms of the media and career politicians. Voters hold them to a more lenient standard. Both are seen to be independent of special-interest groups. Both earn points with voters for saying things that they think.

But there are profound differences. Ventura’s active campaign was a three-month sprint, and he ran as a third-party candidate. Trump is seeking the Republican nomination over a 1 1/2 -year marathon. Ventura is a former Navy Seal; Trump got draft deferments. Ventura was, beneath the cartoon bluster, a local kid with a long-term marriage, and he volunteered as a football coach at a local high school. Voters saw him as a good dad and a regular dude. Trump is a billionaire and, well, not a regular dude. And although Ventura was and is socially progressive, Trump blasts minorities and immigrants in crude fashion.

Buried deep in the story is one sentence that could be the most important trait shared by Trump and Ventura, at least as regards their runs for office:

Ventura had been doing live radio and television for years. His career was built on showmanship, the theatrical sound bite.

Perhaps the biggest difference is simply the campaign calendar faced by the two men – Ventura had to win on a single day appealing to the general voter pool, whereas Trump has to appeal to Republican voters in more than 50 separate contests spread over the various states and territories over several months just to get the nomination, and then must try to appeal to the broader electorate.

Perhaps mindful of this, the Trump team has turned toward the task of building a campaign apparatus capable of prevailing over the long haul, which the Post reported on yesterday:

After a summer of dominating the Republican presidential campaign, Donald Trump is moving into a new and un­certain phase that the billionaire businessman acknowledges will be more challenging than any project he has ever undertaken — even as he views the nomination as now within his reach….

Trump laid out for the first time in detail the elements of what will be the second chapter of his 2016 bid, signaling an evolution toward a somewhat more traditional campaign. Trump is preparing his first television ads with a media firm that is new to politics. Melania, his wife, and Ivanka, his daughter, are planning public appearances highlighting women’s health issues to help close Trump’s empathy gap with female voters.

Trump is also publishing a book and planning to roll out policies on reforming the Department of Veterans Affairs and on trade and China’s currency manipulations. And he is deepening his political organization far beyond the early states, with top advisers vowing that his fight for the nomination will go all the way to the floor of the Republican National Convention.

Trump has been a fairly unconventional candidate to date, in the pre-primary phase that perhaps magnifies his strengths while masking his weaknesses with a focus on personality and media attention. His shift towards a more conventional campaign structure is timely, but it leaves unanswered the question of whether he can replicate Ventura’s feat multiple times over several months in states and territories scattered across the country. He still has a long road ahead of him, but he does seem to be on the right path.