Discounting Donald Trump is not a new game, but it’s a popular one right now.
Trump, they say, stands no chance against the reassuringly slick Ron de Santis, governor of Florida and widely thought to be his main rival for the Republican nomination in the 2024 presidential race.
De Santis is younger and more convincing, a manifestly better politician with greater reach – and helpfully without the posturing and crude misogyny.
We’re told that Trump’s egregious behaviour has all-but destroyed his chances, that millions of natural Republican sympathisers will never vote for him again.
He faces a tangles array of Federal investigations and lawsuits. Influential republicans dismiss him as a fantasist.
Trump has the recognition, he has the funds, he has fervent – and entrenched – supporters in both houses of Congress and he is a formidable campaigner
Even senior executives at the Trump-supporting Fox News believe the 45th president is deluded when he claims that he lost to Biden through electoral fraud.
This insight was delivered courtesy of the extraordinary $1.6bn libel case brought against the network by Dominion Voting Systems, which makes voting machines blamed by some (without evidence) for helping skew the result against Trump.
Yet however bad the case might seem against him, there are good reasons, for believing it is overstated, and that the doubters will be proved wrong.
We’ve been here before, after all. Trump was widely discounted in the 2016 race – treated as a joke candidate, in fact. But they weren’t laughing when the polling stations closed.
The first thing to consider is the sheer size of the electoral advantage Trump currently holds.
We’re a year and a half from polling day, yet his guaranteed support is estimated at 30 million.
With the likely total of Republican voters ranging from 75-80 million, this is a substantial head-start.
Other recent figures suggest that Trump commands the support of 43 per cent of registered Republicans, that de Santis has 31 per cent while Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, the only Republican rival to throw her hat into the ring so far, can only muster four per cent.
She’s a woman and from the southern states, two important advantages in the current climate, but she’s still a minnow. For the moment, at least.
Whatever the critics might prefer to believe, Trump is much, much further ahead than he was when he joined the race for 2016.
Trump has the recognition. (Nikki Haley, anyone?)
He has the funds. He has fervent – and entrenched – supporters in both houses of Congress.
As a former occupant of the Oval Office, he has access to the sort of networks and advice that were beyond him the first time round.
And he is a formidable campaigner.
The Fox News libel case has hardly been flattering to Trump. But it won’t harm him, either.
Those who blame Trump for the Capitol riots have already made up their minds.
And the Fox libel suit serves to reinforce this very simple point– that there is a vast and overwhelming appetite out there for Donald Trump, particularly in the struggling ‘fly-over’ states .
When Trump claimed the election had been ‘stolen’, million upon million of ordinary Americans wanted to believe him, however shaky the evidence (which is why, according to legal papers, Fox TV continued airing Trump’s claims despite the concerns of its executives).
There is, in short, a huge Trump-shaped hole in American politics. However well de Santis might fill it – and the 44-year-old certainly is impressive – the person who fits that hole most perfectly is sitting at home in his Mare Lago mansion.
And if Trump wins the Republican nomination – as I believe he will – what then?
Again, his advantages are considerable, not least when it comes to the respective records of Trump and Jo Biden, the man likely to regain the Democrat nomination.
It’s the record in office that truly cuts through. And Biden’s has hardly been encouraging.
Whether it’s the chaotic retreat from Afghanistan, or the NATO Madrid summit where American wishes were thwarted by a Turkish ultimatum over membership, or the president’s failed visit to Saudi Arabia in a bid to attempt to get them to increase oil production (and reduce world prices) – this has been the lowest point ever for America as a superpower.
US voters are not used to humiliation.
They are well-aware that their country is in a mess, both at home and abroad, and more so than it was in 2016.
Americans won’t forget that Trump was right about China and the threat it poses. They agreed with him back then that the Republic is best off steering clear of foreign wars – and they agree with him now, as the bill for Ukraine mounts steadily and without an end in view.
His record in office stacks up.
When he was president, he fought for stronger border security and fought against Opioid addiction. Two big ticks from me.
He backed lower taxes and more personal freedom, particularly from the bureaucrats who locked us down for far too long in the pandemic.
Yes, he’s vulgar. Yes his antics have offended millions, including many Republicans. But he’s still going to win.
Crucial swing voters might hold their noses in the polling booth. But they actually agree with him on many of these points, however privately.
And they will feel they have no choice but to put him back into the White House.
In these precarious times, when the presidency looks helpless in the face of endless conflict – perhaps even a third world war – the voters need reassurance.
Ron de Santis? Good but no cigar. Biden? Out of the question
When you are hungry, cold and homeless, you become a little less choosy about those who come offering food and shelter.
Many Americans are feeling this right now in a very personal way. Conditions at home and abroad will be just the same in 18 months’ time, or worse.
And Donald Trump will look bigger, more credible and more reassuring than the rest.
Bet against him at your peril.
Erbil Gunasti’s week-by-week analysis of Turkish and American foreign policy https://erdoganandtrump.com/erbil-writes/