Now that the Trump reality-distortion bubble has burst, what can we expect from the billionaire reality show star and his phalanx of ardent defenders?
A man who urged his followers before the Iowa caucuses to assault any tomato throwers, offering to pay their legal fees (he said “seriously” and referred to a threat escalated from his security staff that someone in the audience might have a deadly red fruit), can no longer hide behind the “winner” badge.
Even with a large lead in New Hampshire and a solid second place in Iowa, Trump has to be looking at his potentially narrowing options to get to the White House. Far from “running the table,” he faces an arduous fight for the GOP nomination.
Given Rubio’s raised profile coming out of the last debate, establishment support may swing away from Trump over to Rubio in an effort to stop Ted Cruz from sweeping the primaries. Trump is looking at a potentially grim scenario if he fades in NH headed into South Carolina. And that raises the ever-present question: Will Trump take his ball and run as an independent?
Nate Silver wrote that Trump is already a third-party candidate, in the context of discouraging Michael Bloomberg from running as an independent. Heading into a general election, Trump is more likely to veer left toward the center, where he’s politically more comfortable than running to the right of Barry Goldwater. The problem is, in order to get to the nomination, he’s going to be pressed to stay to the right or fall to Cruz.
The only path to the soft ground in the center in the general election may be an independent run. It may not be the GOP side that determines this for Trump as much as Hillary’s fall. If Hillary fails (as expected) in the NH primary against Sanders, her fate may be sealed, making a centrist run more attractive to an independent Trump.
A combination of a Sanders win and a Trump loss, or even a close call in NH could propel Trump into third-party territory before the primaries head south. A loss in the SEC primary would be a make-or-break for Trump, but leaving the race when Cruz (or Rubio) has momentum could render him impotent in an independent bid.
Christopher Bedford at the Daily Caller wrote last month:
A third-party scenario would mean certain disaster for the GOP. As conservative columnist Byron York pointed out in May 2013, it isn’t the Hispanic vote that cost Republicans 2012 — Gov. Mitt Romney would have needed 73 percent of Hispanics to pull it off. Rather, it was the white vote, where a four-point gain would have sent Mr. Romney to Washington. And those are the same crucial voters who were primed to follow Mr. Trump’s parade right out of the front door.
But if it was a three-way race of Trump vs. Cruz vs. Sanders? With Trump running as the centrist between the far-right Cruz and far-left Sanders, he may have a better chance. This is Trump’s last, best, and only chance at the White House. He cannot afford to lose the GOP nomination and bide his time. If it comes down to losing and walking away or splitting off early, I would not put it past Trump to burn it all down.