I’m a couple of days late reading a nice piece of arithmetic by Nathan Gonzales (of the Rothenberg and Gonzales Political Report) that reflects on the prospects of an independent presidential bid by Donald Trump.
The bottom line, based on the numbers that currently exist (and we’re dealing with poll numbers, so let’s also stipulate that even the most “accurate” poll numbers are accurate only within their margin for error and begin to lose accuracy immediately after the poll is taken as potential voters continue to change their minds) is that Trump’s prospects for victory as an independent presidential candidate are awful to terrible and trending toward dismal.
Trump has said that he will abide by the Republican nominating process as long as he is treated fairly within that process. Since this “commitment” leaves it entirely up to Trump to decide whether he feels he has been treated fairly, it’s really no commitment at all, more of a threat to pressure the party leaders to worry about whether he feels well-treated.
Trump joyously tweeted out a link to a recent USA Today poll in which 68 percent of his supporters who currently indentify themselves as Republicans said that they would support him even if he bolts the GOP and runs as an independent. That sounds pretty impressive.
Now here’s Gonzales’ arithmetic.
“In 2012, Republicans made up 32 percent of the electorate, according to exit polls. Trump is supported by about 27 percent of GOP voters right now. And 68 percent of those supporters say they would support him as an independent. That’s about 6 percent of potential general election voters.”
Sure, Trump the independent be able to add to that total, but he would have to quintuple it or more to be a serious contender to win the presidency as an independent. To actually go down this path, Trump would risk looking like a loser, even compared to the last semi-serious independent presidential candidate, Ross Perot, who ended up with 18.9 percent of the vote and zero electoral votes in 1992. (Perot tried again in 1996 and got 8.4 percent and zero electoral votes.)
If Trump’s vague threat to run independent is about him becoming president, it doesn’t appear to be much of a threat. If his threat is about wrecking the chances of whomever the Repubs do nominate, that’s another matter. If 6 percent of potential Republican voters were to vote for Trump instead, it would pretty much guarantee the election of the Democratic nominee.
Personally, I would guess that the Trump threat is an empty one. If he did go that route, it would basically help the Dems. But I suppose it at least causes the Republican big cigars to worry about how they have to treat Trump to avoid the slight possibility that he would make an independent run just to spite them for some perceived slight or just because he’s enjoying the attention he’s getting.