In twelve months time Americans will go to the polls to elect the next President. Is the world prepared for the outcome?
It is almost impossible to imagine a second election victory for such a manifestly unsuitable candidate for President of the United States as Donald trump.
I still think, on the balance of probabilities that it won’t happen. But it is a possibility which it is becoming impossible to ignore.
Too much of the polling gives Trump a lead over Biden or shows him trailing very narrowly despite Trump’s legal and policy challenges for the prospect of him winning to be considered impossible.
Trump is the overwhelming leader in the Republican primaries. He leads by at least 30 points nationally and in the early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
At the moment it is hard to see how he will not become the Republican nominee. Optimists keep expecting the bubble to burst. But so far it shows no sign of doing so.
In my assessment the person seen as the main challenger, Ron de Santis, has no chance of beating Trump. He cannot decide if he is a younger, more polished Trump or a challenger. He is almost certain to fall between those two stools.
Should a number of the candidates with no chance of winning, of whom there are many, withdraw such a consolidation of the opposition to Trump within the Republican Party would give Nikki Haley a chance of beating Trump. But there are too many ifs, buts and maybes in the way of that possibility for it to be other than a long-shot.
Therefore, at the moment, it is reasonable to assume that Trump will be the Republican nominee.
The question then becomes: “How will he go against Biden?”, because there is no doubt that Biden will be the Democratic Party candidate unless some health issue intervenes.
Current Real Clear Politics polling averages have Trump ahead of Biden by 0.5%. This is so close as to be a virtual tie. However, the vagaries of the Electoral College system of electing the President mean that a Democrat candidate needs a substantial overall national lead to win. After all, Trump lost the national vote against Hillary Clinton in 2016 but won the Electoral College easily.
Polling in the various states suggest a similarly tight picture. The data is not as comprehensive at a state level, but what there is suggests that Biden has reasonable prospects of all the states he won in 2020 except Arizona and Georgia. Such a result would leave the electoral College at Bide 276 and trump 262.
Balancing this is the fact that across various jurisdictions, history tells us that incumbents tend to improve their position during an election campaign.
For instance, Barack Obama led by only 0.2% in May 2012 but went on to win in November by 3.9%.
Although there is no guarantee that this will occur again it is the most likely trend over the next twelve months.
It seems unlikely that the flurry of court cases against Donald Trump over the next twelve months will incline any uncommitted voter to swing towards Trump.
The key question in deciding the outcome is likely to be the turnout of Democrats and Independents next November. It appears likely that anti-Trump sentiment is more likely to mobilise such voters than enthusiasm for Joe Biden.
The wild-card in this contest is the possibility that Trump will be ruled ineligible to stand in at least some states, or that he is convicted of additional offences and possibly even jailed before the election.
The possibility of Donald Trump being deemed ineligible to stand is raised by a well supported legal argument based on section 3 of the 14th amendment to the US Constitution which states that anyone arranging or giving aid and comfort to an insurrection against the United States government is not able to run for any elected office.
Obviously, this amendment was passed after the Civil War and has not been tested since.
Many reputable legal scholars, including some very conservative ones, believe that this clause precludes Trump from standing.
It is hard to believe that any court is going to put itself in the place of the voters in this way.
I certainly hope they do not. If such a decision were to be given, I fear it could lead to an outbreak of violence from Trump’s heavily armed supporters.
He should be defeated at the ballot box not in the Courts.
The questions surrounding the several legitimate civil and criminal court cases against Trump are another matter.
It is important to remember that Trump has already been found to be responsible for rape and fraud in recent court cases, before the 91 additional charges are even considered.
If Trump is found guilty in any of these cases, which I believe is likely, it is hard to see how he could be elected or even be a candidate. However, so far, the cases have helped his fund-raising and not significantly impacted on his level of support.
To a non-American observer, the prospect of a convicted rapist and fraudster and alleged insurrectionist and risk to critical national security documents even being considered as a serious candidate for President of the United States is almost unimaginable.
It is far too early to be making predictions. We don’t even know for certain who the candidates will be, the international situation is volatile, and the domestic political and economic circumstances will undoubtedly change over the next twelve months.
But the sobering reality is that while it is still improbable, it is distinctly possible that Donald trump will return to the White House in 2024.