It’s not logical, Jim

Sometimes things happen in politics to question one’s very sanity, the rules by which you have always thought things operate. One such moment is Donald Trump’s rise in America.

The night of president Obama’s re-election I wrote for Progress to say that surely now the Republican party would have to realise that there are not enough angry white men to win them the White House and they should probably stop hating women, gays, blacks and Latinos.

This was not exactly a stunning political insight, but one of basic maths. Now was the time for the GOP to moderate their tone on immigration, and stop getting into a core vote strategy on wedge issues such as equal marriage and abortion.

The right is normally far more ruthless about winning power than the left, so even if these were not positions they agreed with, they could at least agree the electoral benefit in moderating their tone to deliver a right wing agenda – much as David Cameron has done in the United Kingdom.

Sometimes political parties decide they want to make a point more than the traditional considerations of how to win an election such as picking a candidate with broad appeal, experience and policies to match.

Today’s Republican party has reached such a place, with the leading candidates Donald Trump and Ben Carson, making, by what would be the usual rules of politics, enough gaffes to see them back at their non-political day jobs.

Instead that very lack of experience, of playing by the rules, of campaigning in the traditional way seems to be the wind beneath their wings. GOP activists seem so mad at the current crop of Washington politicians that they are willing to think the unthinkable.

The only time America has selected a president without government or elected office experience it has been a war-winning general as in the case of George Washington, Zachary Taylor, Ulysses S Grant or Dwight D Eisenhower.

Logically between now and the conclusion of the primary season Donald Trump will make one insult too many and the Republicans will call on someone like Florida senator Marco Rubio to step forward and take the fight to Hillary Clinton. But as time goes by that moment still has not come despite the Trump gaffeometer being off the scale.

This whole article could be filled with offensive statements from the billionaire property mogul and reality TV star but let’s take just a couple of the most recent ones, namely that following the Paris attacks Muslims should have special ID cards, or that he heard thousands of Muslims cheering the fall of the twin towers – a claim rubbished by both media and politicians.

Voters are picking Trump because he is not the traditional political candidate, and moderate politics is failing to meet the challenge. Trump can promise to expel 11 million illegal immigrants, and questions of cost and practicality are irrelevant to those who are voting for him.

The establishment choice to beat Trump, Jeb Bush, the son and brother of the 41st and 43rd president has certainly failed to meet the challenge. The nature of primary politics is yet again skewing the field but even that fails to excuse the failure of the moderates on the GOP side.

The Democrats also flirted with the traditional left debate of principles versus power, but they at least seem to have come down on the side that thinks winning elections is better than losing them. True, Hillary Clinton is no shoo-in. No party has held the White House for three terms since world war two, other than Bush Sr in 1988.

But deep down, Democrats know that Hillary Clinton has the best chance of keeping the Oval Office in their hands and recognise that whatever their desire for the Vermont senator to be a credible general election candidate, he just isn’t.

The primary process means that Bernie Sanders could still chalk up early wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, where a combination of the process and his local appeal could provide a couple of bumps in the road for Clinton. But what this requires is for Team Hillary to hold their nerve and know that as the race goes on they will prevail.

So what if? What if the Republicans really do end up picking Donald Trump as their nominee? Surely, logic dictates he cannot win, that Hillary Clinton will be able to build a coalition of mainstream and minority interests to win the White House. But whoever said politics was logical.

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Matthew Doyle is a former adviser to Tony Blair. He tweets @DoyleMatthew

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Photo: iprimages

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