Will Trump and Hillary Duke it Out?

Sherry Bebitch Jeffe & Doug Jeffe

Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, Professor of the Practice of Public Policy Communication, Sol Price School of Public Policy and Doug Jeffe, Communications and Public Affairs Strategist


“Vote the Crook—it’s important” read a bumper sticker in the 1991 Louisiana Governor’s race that pitted David Duke, a former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, against Edwin Edwards, a former Louisiana governor who had been charged with bribery and was later convicted of 17 counts relating to extortion and racketeering. While Donald Trump is no David Duke and Hillary Clinton is no Edwin Edwards, a November election match between the two Presidential front-runners could mirror the Louisiana dynamic.

Mitt Romney’s speech last Thursday deftly made the case against Trump.  The Donald’s anti-trade protestations, his bashing of ethnic groups, apparent advocacy of torture and of the killing of the enemy’s women and children, his rough edges and political incorrectness are unacceptable to the Republican establishment and probably to the GOP mainstream. 

Adlai Stevenson reportedly responded to a woman who proclaimed: “Senator, you have the vote of every thinking person!” with “That’s not enough, madam, we need a majority!”.  Well, as the hard core Republican electorate is constructed today, so-called mainstream voters are overmatched against the disaffected and angry Americans who make up Donald Trump’s base.  In a sense, it is Mitt Romney, the personification of the “old-school,” GOP elite, whom these dissidents are voting against when they cast their ballots for the Donald.

The Republican establishment’s strategy de jour seems to be to hold Trump’s delegate total under 50% going into this Summer’s Republican National Convention; that would keep open the possibility of the anti-Trump forces coalescing behind another candidate (Romney?) in Cleveland.  Unless something dramatic happens in the next few weeks, this may be the GOP greybeards’ only option, but it is a decided long-shot.  Nonetheless, it may carry the GOP Primary fight all the way through California.

If Donald Trump is able to bully his way through to the Republican nomination, we can expect a real donnybrook in the fall.  He will hammer Hillary Clinton with every charge in the book.  He might even hint that she was complicit in the Lincoln assassination.  The Clinton campaign will echo every charge made by Romney, Rubio and a panoply of Trump’s primary election critics.  Democrats will paint him as loathsome and dangerous and mobilize young women and minority voters to turn out in droves.

Hillary Clinton has been around too long and has made too many tone deaf moves to allow her to inspire great enthusiasm.  Her poll numbers on honesty and truthfulness are in the tank. However, except among staunch Clinton haters, she is acknowledged for her competence and experience.  In some ways, she is positioned in 2016 much as Richard Nixon was in 1968.

Despite Chris Christie’s leap onto the Trump bandwagon, most first-tier Republican politicos are likely to isolate Trump in the fall—offering tepid support, withholding endorsements or, in some cases, holding their noses and endorsing Hillary Clinton.

GOP House and Senate candidates largely fear the Trump label and worry that the Democratic base could be motivated to turn out in droves—taking down other Republican candidates in the process and wiping out the GOP majority in the U.S. Senate and perhaps even the U.S. House. In fact, this election season, the stars have aligned to place all three branches of our federal government—the executive, legislative and judicial up for grabs. The political stakes have seldom been higher.

This is a deeply crazy campaign cycle, and it is never a safe bet to say that Donald Trump won’t continue to defy gravity.  But the fact is that his support has come from only a bit more than a third of the Republican Primary voters and comprises less than a quarter of the likely November electorate.

With all that is at stake, don’t count out the possibility that a coalition of establishment politicos—both Republicans and Democrats—mobilizing to defeat Trump, the populist outlier, sooner or later. That’s what happened to Duke in Louisiana.

Odds are that Hillary Clinton would defeat Donald Trump by a substantial margin in November, but, like Edwards’ gubernatorial victory in 1991, it won’t be pretty.

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