Donald Trump has claimed another major victory, this time in the Nevada caucus of the Republican presidential race.
Questions over whether he could appeal to a broader electorate than that of his wins in New Hampshire and South Carolina were quashed, as he near-doubled the vote of his nearest rival Marco Rubio.
Mr Trump’s successes in spite of a string of deeply worrying public statements have raised alarms among international observers, so we asked a couple of academics at Oxford’s Rothermere American Institute – can the billionaire businessman really win the race to the White House?
How likely is it now that Donald Trump will be the Republican candidate?
Dr Nigel Bowles, RAI’s senior research fellow, puts it simply: “Trump is the strong favourite to secure the Republican nomination.”
Dr Ursula Hackett, junior research fellow in US politics at the RAI, says Nevada’s result “does make a Trump candidacy more likely”.
“Opponents of Trump suggest that he has a natural ‘ceiling’ of support and cannot appeal to voters beyond less-educated whites. The Nevada result demonstrates otherwise.
“But Nevada could actually be most significant because of the effect on Ted Cruz. He had really invested in Nevada, and in its wake has received a lot of advice to broaden his support base. If these public queries cause Cruz to falter, Trump’s momentum will increase.”
Is there any way Mr Trump can be stopped?
Dr Hackett: “With just a hundred or so delegates won, and several thousand remaining, this is still early days. Super Tuesday on 1st March will be the big test and we should be cautious about making predictions at this stage.
“It has been said that the natural ‘ceiling’ in Trump support would start to tell, and that maybe there was a limit to the extent he could keep going to media with more and more extreme statements and getting free coverage.
“But that hasn’t happened. Trump said recently he could shoot someone and he wouldn’t lose votes, and at this point it is very difficult to point to any one thing that could derail him.
Dr Bowles: “He could be stopped by either a) His making a grievous tactical error. Or by b) The field narrowing to himself and Rubio, provided that Rubio showed himself able to draw all or almost all of Carson’s and Cruz’s support.
“However, the probability of either event happening is significantly less than 50 per cent.”
Who has a better chance against Mr Trump – Clinton or Sanders?
Dr Bowles: “Clinton would be much the most powerful candidate against Trump provided that her weaknesses and vulnerabilities are contained.”
Dr Hackett: “In a hypothetical general election match-up, Clinton may have the best chance of appealing to moderates against a Trump candidate.
“But the crucial thing in this election will be motivating a turnout amongst your support base.
“Clinton is very provocative to Republicans – they have a negative reaction to her that is almost equal to the negative Democratic reaction against Trump.
“Nonetheless, I still think Clinton has the better chance of beating Trump than Sanders does.”
Can Trump become the next President?
Dr Hackett: “It’s still too early as a political scientist to say whether one candidate or another will win or lose.
“I will go as far as to say Trump has a pathway to the Republican nomination, but I don’t think he has a pathway to the Presidency.
Dr Bowles: “Trump is unlikely to become President of the United States”.
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