The Donald Trump Factor

Real estate businessman Donald Trump has recently announced his candidacy in the upcoming presidential elections. The danger, however, isn’t so much that he’ll win the Republican primaries, but that he’ll contaminate the primaries to such an extent that good judgment will cease to prevail in the treatment of several fundamental topics concerning both the social and political scenes in the USA.

His campaigning strategy was typical of his persona: It was characterized by bad taste (he boasted of owning some $8 billion and being extraordinarily “rich”), xenophobia (he claimed that Mexico is bringing drugs, crime and rapists), protectionism (he accused politicians of benefiting from the country), and populism (he confirmed that all U.S. leaders are stupid).

Trump, it seems, is aiming at an immediate objective: That is, he wishes to gain instant notoriety in the election process, where competition for the spotlight is already running high, and a further 11 candidates have already thrown their hats into the ring. If he’s successful, Trump will appear on the first televised Republican debate scheduled for broadcast on Aug. 6, for which television channels envisage reducing participants. Seeing as Trump enjoys a considerably higher amount of public recognition than the majority of the other candidates, and several polls are already conferring him 5 percent of votes, organizers will undoubtedly struggle to veto his TV appearance. In this case, Trump will constitute a key factor in the process until the final nomination is awarded.

Does this really matter? Quite frankly, it does. His populist politics, xenophobia and protectionism will force even the most reasonable candidates to abandon their initial positions (something, incidentally, that they are already being forced to do: for example, by opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership fronted by Obama). Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, who currently head the internal polls of the Republican Party, will be forced to abandon unifying and modern approaches to immigration.

The fight for the party’s base, which promotes a slightly less open and flexible vision than the rest of the country, places Trump in a disproportionately advantageous position to modify their ideological stance.

For the more promising Republican candidates, the risk is as follows: In their haste to defend themselves from populist accusations, it’s possible they’ll end up being discounted by the general public. Hillary Clinton and her (comparatively few) potential Democratic contenders must be jumping up and down with excitement following such goings-on in the rival camp.

But is the risk larger yet? What if Trump wins the primaries? Such an outcome may be improbable, but we can still speculate on its effects: The remaining Republicans would most probably turn their backs on Trump, leaving him to run as an independent candidate. If he attempts to recreate the “Ross Perot” episode of 1992, we may see a repetition of the very election in which the Republicans lost out on essential votes, causing Bill Clinton to triumph over Bush Senior.

A further problem with a potential independent candidacy would be the risk of contaminating the national election, forcing Hillary Clinton (if she is indeed nominated) and the respective Republican candidate to make considerable concessions in matters such as immigration, China, international trade and other sensitive issues.

One would like to believe that Trump’s proposal is sufficiently superficial and even ridiculous for Obama to relegate his candidacy to its rightful place: mere fiction. But times are strange and the U.S. public is becoming increasingly disillusioned with current politicians.

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