Donald Trump: From a joke to the Presidency?

Joyce Karam
Joyce Karam
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It is rare in American politics for someone who made an entertainment career out of bullying people, insulting minorities, women and the disabled to become the frontrunner of his party in the race for President. That in a nutshell is Donald Trump, whose rise and potential path to the White House so far ring echoes of Europe's pompous right wing populists Silvio Berlusconi and Marine Le Pen.

When Trump entered the race last June, pundits, policymakers and journalists (myself included) laughed about his chances, some raising doubts about his own intentions and perhaps if he's in it to promote his TV ratings and real estate projects. The Trump candidacy early on was a joke and a magnet for the media to increase traffic and viewership. Eight months on, there is little to laugh at as Trump sweeps three states and emerges as the GOP frontrunner on a path to win the nomination where he would be a stone throw away from the White House.

If there is one lesson to be learned from Trump's ascendancy, it's that he can't be underestimated. The candidate's lack of policy depth, and his derogatory approach have not hindered at all his chances. Instead his blunt and comic style, blending the politics of fear and unrestrained talk of American power, has found a large following among voters dissatisfied and angry at the state of the Republican Party and the direction of the country.

Trump's ability to tap into this anger where his contenders have failed, and to utilize dirty political tactics that personalizes the attacks on his rivals and their families, should permanently end any conversation that plays down his chances at winning nomination or the general election.

"The Donald" is showing stamina and political malleability to win decisively in different states and forms of voting. He carried moderate New Hampshire, Evangelical South Carolina, and the very conservative caucus state of Nevada. He is winning among independents and conservatives alike, and showing ability to drive a much higher turnout than previous contenders John McCain and Mitt Romney.

For now, the Trump candidacy has outlived its entertainment value, and is both a formidable but alarming force that is transforming the Republican Party.

Joyce Karam

With the exception of Texas, Trump leads today in all the big States voting on "Super Tuesday" next week. His lead also extends to East Coast states, Michigan, and California, making him the clear favorite and absent of a change in the race dynamics, to come closest to the 1237 delegates and win the nomination.

Should such scenario play out, and Trump is the nominee for the Republican Party in July, expect a rebranding of his message and positions against the Democratic nominee whether it's Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. Trump has embodied political opportunism through his life and career, and could reposition himself on immigration, and abortion, along where the national polls would take him. After all this is the candidate who was pro-choice before becoming anti-choice, pro-Iraq war before opposing the war, and pro a form of amnesty before becoming an anti-immigration zealot.

While either Clinton or Sanders would throw everything in except the kitchen sink to attack Trump, the average voter and the U.S. media have proven to have a short memory span, overlooking The Donald's past insults and falling for his rhetoric. Trump's win in the general is evidently more challenging than the primaries but it should not be dismissed.

The self-funded, politically incorrect, and boorish real estate mogul has broken most traditional metrics in this primary, and could continue to do so in November.

Trump could also lose

Albeit his momentum, bounce in the polls and delegate lead, Trump's path to the Republican nomination is not all inevitable.

His biggest advantage is benefitting from a crowded GOP field and a split in the vote among the establishment candidates. This could come to end if John Kasich and Ben Carson, who have no path to the nomination, drop out of the race. That would give clear advantage to both Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz to challenge Trump, and take away big states such as Ohio, Texas, Florida and Michigan where both Kasich and Carson have significant support. But for such possibility to materialize, Kasich and Carson will both have to leave the race before Tuesday. Even then there is no guarantee that these votes would go to Rubio or Cruz, but it is the last and only option for the establishment to stop Trump.

In the event of Rubio catching up with Trump in the delegate count but not surpassing him, unpledged delegates who are from the party elite (437 votes) could tip the balance in the favor of Florida's senator at the convention. Such a dramatic fallout while unfavorable, could save the GOP from potentially losing the White House and the Senate in November with a Trump nomination, or even worse, damaging the Republican brand for years to come.

For now, the Trump candidacy has outlived its entertainment value, and is both a formidable but alarming force that is transforming the Republican Party and could be edging closer to the White House in the next defining weeks in the U.S elections.

Joyce Karam is the Washington Correspondent for Al-Hayat Newspaper, an International Arabic Daily based in London. She has covered American politics extensively since 2004 with focus on U.S. policy towards the Middle East. Prior to that, she worked as a Journalist in Lebanon, covering the Post-war situation. Joyce holds a B.A. in Journalism and an M.A. in International Peace and Conflict Resolution. Twitter: @Joyce_Karam

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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