‘These are my principles, and if you don’t like them … well, I have others.’ – Groucho Marx The odds have lengthened against a Donald Trump presidency after his Wisconsin defeat and they were probably already 10/1 against.
If he wins the Republican nomination, which is still likely, he will almost certainly face Hillary Clinton in the November election – and lose badly. That is the orthodox calculation, for Trump is far behind Clinton with key voter groups such as women, Latinos, African-Americans, and young people who bother to vote.
But she is uninspiring, the ultimate Washington insider in a season where insiders are out and there are a few skeletons that might come rattling out of her closet during the campaign. A big terrorist attack could also change the odds.
So President Trump is still a small but real possibility. You wouldn’t be a fool to put a dollar down if somebody offered you 12/1. That frightens a lot of people quite badly, especially when it comes to foreign policy, for he is the loosest of loose cannons – or so it seems.
There he goes, starting a trade war with China, pushing Japan and South Korea to get their own nuclear weapons, trashing Nato, building a wall to keep Mexicans out and closing the US border to all Muslims. He’s even in favour of torturing suspected terrorists.
But would he really be as rash and ignorant in the White House as he is while in campaign mode? All of his present positions are calculated to appeal to the group whose support he must win to get the Republican nomination: “angry white men” who feel that they have been cheated of their rights to a good job and a central role in American politics by unseen economic and demographic forces and clever, wicked foreigners.
The internal politics of the Republican Party is largely dominated by their concerns. Once the Republican nomination is in the bag and Trump must address a broader audience to win the election, he will have to shift his ground – and he will do it. (The angry white men will just have to tag along, because they have nowhere else to go.)
Then, if he should win the election, he might change his policies again. Who is the real Trump? The answer is that there is no real Trump, in terms of policies and principles. He will do anything and say anything to get what he wants – but beyond being elected president, it isn’t clear that he wants anything in particular. If ideologues frighten you, then you needn’t worry about “The Donald”.
What frightens people about Trump is his ignorance and his impulsiveness. On the other hand, he is actually quite intelligent and, as president, he would have to rely on military officers and civil servants who really do not want to uproot and overturn everything.
The result might be a presidency with a foreign policy like Richard Nixon’s: paranoid, unscrupulous, but not ideological and not given to needless provocations on the international scene.
The trickiest bit would be Trump’s first few months in office, because he has frightened the horses internationally and they are getting ready to bolt. It is hard to overstate just how frightened other governments are about Trump in the White House.
The word “fascist” gets used a lot. Perhaps the biggest danger is that America’s allies and enemies would react pre-emptively to his rhetoric without waiting to see what he actually does in office. So, on reflection, it really would be a bad idea for Trump to become the president of the US.