Politically speaking, 2015 will be remembered as the Year of Donald Trump.
Trump set the agenda, he dominated the headlines, and he has proved that for all their talk about freedom and liberty and constitutional government, the American people are no more immune to the appeal of a demagogue than anybody else. The illusion that a powerful man, by sheer force of will and personality, can solve all the problems left unsolved by the bickering and feuding of lesser mortals turns out to be universal.
Lest we forget, though, our system of government was designed by the Founders specifically to frustrate that instinct. It was intended to diffuse rather than concentrate power, to make decisions possible only through compromise. And if you perceive compromise as failure, as do many of those most frustrated by the stalemate in Washington, then by design very little progress is possible.
The Year of Trump is drawing to a close, and good riddance. Somehow in the next few months — maybe because his supporters just won’t show up to vote — the Trump balloon will burst. I don’t know how that will happen, but I’m sure that it will.
OK, make that “pretty sure”. Because I have to admit that I’ve been wrong before. Back in the summer, I wrote that the 18 percent of the GOP electorate that Trump was then drawing represented his ceiling, and that he had no chance of becoming the GOP nominee. Today, the most recent national polls put him at 40 percent or above, and a majority of Republicans now say that he represents the party’s best chance at defeating Hillary Clinton. Clearly, he has a shot at the nomination.
But not at the presidency. He has no chance at the White House, I’m sure of that much.
OK, make that pretty sure. I confess that my faith in the common sense and basic decency of the American people has been rattled a bit, and maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe it’s good to be reminded that democratic processes and respect for others are not the natural order of things but in fact have to be defended and cultivated, particularly in times of stress. Many on the right, appalled both by Trump and those who have rallied to him, have begun to make that argument as well, and that’s heartening.
So who will dominate 2016?
If I had to bet today, I’d bet on Ted Cruz as the eventual GOP nominee. Like Trump, he has the born salesman’s instinct for discerning what the customers want to hear and then shamelessly giving it to them. But unlike Trump, who runs his campaign by the seat of his $800 pair of pants, Cruz is a professional politician who has craftily gamed out the process. If it seems as though everything has begun to click into place for Cruz, it’s not just because he has been lucky. It’s because he has prepared for it. The word that distinguishes him from Trump is “discipline.”
Overall, I’d give Cruz a 40 percent chance of standing at the convention podium in Cleveland come July, with Trump and Marco Rubio each at 25 percent. And barring a calamity, Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee. In the general election, I’d give Hillary a 95 percent chance against Trump, 85 percent against Cruz and 70 percent against Rubio.
But as I think I mentioned, I’ve been wrong before.