There are two common interpretations of Donald Trump’s campaign for President.
The first views his campaign as little more than a farce designed to indulge his cravings for the media spotlight. His bombastic and incendiary attacks on his Republican rivals fit nicely within this model, as does his reluctance to offer specific policy proposals.
The other, competing hypothesis about the Trump campaign is that his candidacy is being driven by his anger at the state of the country, and conviction that he can set it right. His unorthodox campaigning style and off-color remarks are seen as carefully crafted to appeal to the embittered and disillusioned within the Republican fold.
But a third alternative remains possible — that Donald Trump is a liberal determined to get Hillary Clinton elected president. It’s a conclusion based on a few obvious facts:
First, no reasonable student of Trump’s past can take seriously his current claim to be a staunch conservative. He has been a Democrat and an Independent, advocated for a single-payer healthcare system, called George W. Bush “evil” and “the worst president ever,” and supported a ban on assault weapons.
Trump’s bona fides on conservative social values, so important to many in the Republican base, are also dubious. Thrice married, he has favored legalized abortion and during an appearance at the Family Leadership Summit in July, he said he wasn’t sure he had ever sought God’s forgiveness and inartfully referred to Communion as “my little wine…and my little cracker.
Second, Trump’s long-standing friendship with the Clinton family makes his current castigations of Hillary’s record seem ludicrous. He invited both Bill and Hillary to his wedding in 2005, made substantial contributions to Hillary’s 2000 bid for the Senate and to the Clinton Foundation and, as late as 2007, called her “very talented” and “a terrific person.” When she released her convoluted plan for universal health insurance during the 2008 campaign, he praised it as “a good idea.”
Trump seems to be a longshot in the General Election, even though he is currently leading in the polls in the Republican Primary. He trails Clinton by more than 14% in general election match-up polls — far behind Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, and Marco Rubio — and had a disapproval rating of 61% as of mid-July.His alienation of many Hispanic voters with his harsh comments about immigration, coupled with his latest misogynistic spat with Megyn Kelly, will only further damage his support among women and Latinos, two crucial constituencies heading into 2016.
But it’s unlikely that Trump — shrewd businessman, master negotiator, and insecure billionaire — has overlooked these facts.
So why run?
Because Trump appeals to the very constituencies — immigration hardliners, hawks who want aggressive intervention abroad to defeat ISIS, and those who spurn the political process entirely — that Hillary will never win over. Yet they’re voters that a conservative Republican could tap into to defeat her in the general election.
His strategy, would then be, to attract as large a following as possible of Republican voters. If he wins the nomination, he could either make an excuse to drop out of the race or, driven by his colossal ego, challenge Hillary to the bitter end and, if elected president, govern as the liberal he is.
If he doesn’t win the GOP nomination he could run as an independent, bringing with him droves of precious Republican voters and denying the Republican nominee any chance of victory while leaving Hillary’s constituencies intact.
But we will just have to wait and see how this race plays out.