I think events have just ensured that we will see a President Trump come next January, barring two now improbable events.
The only realistic prospect that the Republicans have to stop Trump is that all of them somehow manage to band together and in so doing capture as many as possible of Ted Cruz’s votes for themselves along the way. Even then, the demographic problems would ensure that they would probably lose the election: even with, say, Rubio on the ticket drawing a significant number of Hispanic voters, they could only hope to possibly flip FL and a mountain state or two from the 2012 electoral map. It would have made things closer, but not necessarily so. The so called Missing White Voters, numerous in much of the electorally competitive Rust Belt and Mid Atlantic states, would have been unimpressed by a Rubio candidacy.
Trump promises to deliver more of the Missing White Voters to the Republicans. While it is true that those MWV’s who do vote are heavily Republican, they are also characterized by a low turnout. As their demands, born out of economic and social insecurities that tilt towards a certain degree of racism, distrust of both corporations and politics as usual, and big government, they are not especially excited by what the usual Republicans (or Democrats) have to offer. The prospect of winning more of them over, from the realm of non-voters to voters, raises significantly the prospect of a Republican victory. In other words, Trump offers the Republicans, in return for his supposed apostasy to Republican ideology, something that no other Republican candidate can: a real chance at victory.
This is a high price that many Republicans may still be reluctant to pay up, but as Trump sews up more and more primaries and seemingly edges closer to nomination regardless, Republican insiders face a choice: join an increasingly difficult and ultimately losing crusade to stop Trump or jump on the winning team in twofold sense–those who are more likely to win the nomination and possibly the general election.
We have just witnessed the first “real establishment” defection, in form of Chris Christie endorsing Trump. Does this mean that the Republican establishment is cracking, with pieces falling in favor of Trump candidacy? Perhaps so. While it is true that Christie is not exactly a darling of the GOP establishment now (after his attack badly embarrassed Rubio in the debate just before the New Hampshire primaries, after which the New Jersey governor dropped out, Christie was labeled as a “suicide bomber” by Rupert Murdoch) and has relatively little to lose, he remains an establishment figure, holding a major elective office of much prominence. His defection provides some cover for others looking to do the same. If Trump can obtain a handful of establishment endorsements, there will be a cascade. With enough establishment endorsements, the prospect of unifying all regular GOP supporters behind Marco Rubio is likely doomed.
Notwithstanding the matchup polls that give poor prospects of victory to Trump in the general election, Trump’s chances should not be underestimated. Democratic margins of victory in a wide swaths of Mid Atlantic and Midwest are narrow and the number of discontented voters who are open to mobilization by Trump candidacy large. All other demographics are electorally of little significance–they are concentrated in areas that are not especially competitive. Only very large swings would produce changes in electoral votes needed to change the outcome. With the issues of economic and social inequality taking the center stage in the present election and Hillary Clinton having trouble gaining traction with this exact demographic in the Democratic primaries, it is not clear that Trump would fare badly. As noted above, Trump is the ONLY candidate who can secure Republican victory in November without fundamentally retooling the party coalitions.
Democratic primaries have, of course, produced another possibility, in which Bernie Sanders is pitted against Trump. With a handful of exceptions, Sanders candidacy has been mistakenly characterized by many pundits as a hyper liberal, upper class movement, so-called “wine track” as they term it. At least in terms of the design, this is about as wrong as one could characterize it: Sanders, from the beginning, has been clearly pinning his hopes on winning over the same Missing White Voters as Trump. While the racist and jingoist undertones of the Trump campaign are missing, Sanders is essentially delivering the same message as Trump, that, they are looking to protect that demographic, so often left out of both parties’ coalitions, against economic and social insecurities that dominate today’s world. We do not know yet how well a hypothetical Sanders-Trump matchup would play out. At least in comparison to the Clinton candidacy, Sanders should be more competitive with the voters that happen to occupy the crucial position in the electoral landscape today.
Whatever happens, however, the Republican Party, as we have known it for past 100+ years, is finished. It is broken, under its own weight and abuse of agenda power by the insiders, a victim of its own internal contradictions.