Newspaper article International New York Times

Imagining Trump Going the Distance

Newspaper article International New York Times

Imagining Trump Going the Distance

Article excerpt

A longtime political strategist weighs in on Donald J. Trump and how he has upended the dynamics of recent Republican contests.

The term "Republican establishment" refers to people like Scott Reed. Those people have had a very confusing year.

Across four decades, Mr. Reed has worked for his generation's signature Republican leaders: Ronald Reagan, Jack Kemp, George Bush, Bob Dole. Now at the United States Chamber of Commerce, he's watching Donald J. Trump challenge everything he thought he knew about his party's nominating process.

Republicans elevate their "next in line" mainstream leader. Straight from reality television, Mr. Trump has vaulted past big- state governors and senators.

The party has traditionally valued ideological orthodoxy. With Mr. Trump's divergence from conservatives on health care, entitlement spending and the Iraq war, Mr. Reed said, "ideology is getting flushed down the toilet."

Most important, Mr. Trump has upended the strategic dynamics of recent Republican contests -- the dynamics that have led people like Mr. Reed to predict his defeat.

"The key to being nominated has been to be the last man standing against a totally unacceptable candidate," Mr. Reed said.

By "totally unacceptable," he meant an ideologically zealous challenger who could excite a disaffected chunk of primary voters, but not a majority.

That's how Mr. Reed managed the successful bid by Mr. Dole, then Senate majority leader, for the 1996 Republican nomination. Next in line after losing the nomination eight years earlier, Mr. Dole confronted an array of rivals led by the fiery populist Patrick J. Buchanan.

Mr. Dole beat Mr. Buchanan in Iowa, then lost to him in New Hampshire. When trailing candidates faded thereafter for lack of momentum or money -- the typical post-New Hampshire pattern -- Mr. Dole cruised to lopsided victories. Mr. Buchanan failed to capture 40 percent of the primary vote anywhere.

In 2016, that formula for stopping Mr. Trump may not work. The chunk of Republicans embracing an angry message, Mr. Reed said, "is two to three times its average size."

Consider the combined support for Mr. …

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