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Case Analysis 15 May, 2016

What Does a Trump Presidential Candidacy Mean?

The Unit for Political Studies

The Unit for Political Studies is the Center’s department dedicated to the study of the region’s most pressing current affairs. An integral and vital part of the ACRPS’ activities, it offers academically rigorous analysis on issues that are relevant and useful to the public, academics and policy-makers of the Arab region and beyond. The Unit for Policy Studies draws on the collaborative efforts of a number of scholars based within and outside the ACRPS. It produces three of the Center’s publication series: Situation Assessment, Policy Analysis, and Case Analysis reports. 


Following his victory in the Indiana primary on May 3, and the withdrawal of rivals Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Ohio Governor John Kasich, Trump is now the presumptive Republican presidential candidate. With this turn of events, however, the Republican Party stands at a crossroads that could lead to either split or splinter.

With Cruz and Kasich out of the race, the Party establishment’s gamble to stop the rise of Trump failed. It had tried, through political bargaining, to stop Trump gaining the votes of the 1,237 convention delegates needed in Cleveland this July to rise to top party rank. This hinted at a possible split that would change the shape of American politics.

Beyond the party, however, the consequences of Trump as leader, in particular national leader, will be global. This is particularly true given Trump’s talk of a re-definition of America’s global role, and a reformulation of the bases of US relations with friend and foe alike.

Taking over the Republican Party

According to some observers, the Republican primaries represented a “putsch” by the populist extreme right against one of the main political parties in the United States. [1] Trump, formerly a Democrat with fluctuating views on key Republican issues like abortion, has been able to embody the anger of Republican-leaning ‘white America’ when it comes to immigration, immigrants, the economy, Democrats, and the Republican Party establishment. This is in particular given the far right portion of the party, which sees any other position as complicit with the Democrats and the current Obama administration. Trump is not a conservative ideologically, nor is he a neo-con. Rather, he is an arriviste populist who addresses the instincts of an anti-Democratic constituency and its latent fears that the nature of the United States is changing.

This position essentially means Trump’s discourse is inconsistent. Instead of a defined political stance, what unites Trump’s statements is the mind-set of the American everyman, the one in the bar and in the workplace, and his complaints against politicians and loathing of intellectuals. Trump stokes and expresses the unarticulated feelings of America’s white middle and lower class; a group with conservative views. This big-business presidential candidate does not shy away from bluntly expressing what is on the minds of this large segment of the population. Some observers see a relationship between Trump’s rising popularity and the surge of ‘white anger’ among aging American males, and the growth of support for right-wing movements in Europe. [2] This has set alarm bells ringing in the United States and indeed around the world, especially as Trump has not disguised his hostility towards ethnic and religious minorities such as African-Americans, Latinos, and Muslims.

Trump is promising the right-wing populists who are now—by virtue of directing his opinion—in control of the Republican Party two things: greater trade protectionism domestically and political isolationism on the international stage. [3] This far-right populist discourse, however, could cause a large part of the moderate base of the Republican Party to break away.

Republican Split?

Even though Trump is the party’s official presumptive candidate, there is no indication that the Republican establishment and its other leaders are entirely in support of his platform. Indeed, there is a clear divide between those who think Trump will cause irreparable damage to the Party and its image, and those who think that he has gained a mandate from party members and must therefore be supported.

Notably, the most senior Republican official House Speaker Paul Ryan announced in early May that he was “just not ready” to back Trump. He further added that Trump needed to “unify” the Republican Party, respect its values and views, and refrain from provocative statements in order to earn his support. [4] Trump responded to Ryan by saying that the lack of trust went both ways. He announced that that he too was “not ready” to support Ryan’s “agenda” as Speaker of the House, [5] and that it was not necessary to unify the Republican Party in order for him to win the presidential elections. Trump reminded Ryan that he represented the choice of Republican voters, and had won primaries in the face of Party establishment opposition. [6] This spat pushed Ryan into declaring his willingness to step down as chair of July’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland, when Trump will be declared the official candidate. [7] Trump and Ryan have since taken a less strident tone towards each other, but issues remain unresolved.

Some commentators think Ryan’s position is an attempt to create cover for many Republican House incumbents who are fearful of standing on Trump’s ticket, and instead enabling them to stand on a Republican ticket that could ensure a continued Republican majority in the US House of Representatives.[8] The Trump-Ryan disagreement is not expected to end soon, especially as former Republican governor of Alaska and Trump supporter Sarah Palin has declared that she would back a rival candidate to take on Ryan in his Wisconsin district. [9]

The divide was deepened when two former Republican presidents, Bush father and son, announced that they will boycott this year’s Republican National Convention in protest of Trump’s selection as candidate. Further, two former Republican presidential candidates, Senator John McCain and Mitt Romney, have announced their reluctance to attend the Convention. Further dividing the party, former Trump rivals during the primary season, such as former Texas governor, Jeb Bush, and Senator for North Carolina Lindsey Graham, have stated that they will not vote for him. [10] Losing candidate Florida Senator Marco Rubio has also indicated that he will not run as Trump’s choice for vice-president. [11] Ted Cruz also appears to be refusing to allow his delegates at the National Convention to be incorporated into the Trump campaign. [12]

While there has been a strong reaction against Trump, there are at the same time prominent members of the Republican Party who have declared their support. Foremost among them are former vice-president Dick Cheney, leader of the Republican majority in the Senate Mitch McConnell, 1996 Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole, and former Governor of Texas Rick Perry,[13] who have all come out in support.

A Third Party

In the face of the failure of the Republican Party establishment to get rid of Trump during the primaries, a number of leading Party figures have revived an earlier plan to form a third party. This party would be able to put forward a presidential candidate associated with the mainstream of the Republican Party, and provide an alternative for Republican members of both houses of Congress who have said they are unwilling to run on the Trump ticket. Leading this move are Mitt Romney, Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse, and conservative commentators William Kristol and Erick Erickson. [14] However, they have yet to find a heavyweight individual to stand against Trump and assumed Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the presidential contest. Romney and Sasse are hesitant to run, even though they support the idea. In addition, doubts are being raised over the feasibility of registering a third candidate in all fifty states in the few months left before the elections.

Trump’s Need for the Republican Machine

Though Trump has claimed that he can win the presidential elections without the support of the Republican Party, this seems impossible given it would mean a win without the support of the National Committee’s financial and political infrastructure. To date, the Trump campaign has spent around USD 40 million, mostly from Trump’s personal fortune, but according to Trump himself, his campaign needs around USD 1.5 billion to win the general elections. He therefore needs the support of the Party. [15] While officials from the Trump campaign are now working with officials from the Republican National Committee to formulate an agreement to combine funds from the Committee and the campaign, this does not mean that obstacles will easily disappear. There are six months left until elections, an insufficient period to collect the enormous sums needed for a presidential campaign. More significantly, the party split over Trump makes achieving the campaign’s fundraising targets difficult. Many traditional Republican funders are reluctant to make any financial pledges this year because of Trump. These include the network of the Koch brothers which had pledged USD 900 million, but is now making the release of any funds conditional on Trump changing his style and discourse. [16]

Furthermore, the Trump campaign needs the party machine to compete in the various states, especially swing states like Ohio and Florida. The Trump campaign is a non-traditional one directed at the party base. It succeeded in winning over the right wing on the basis of Trump’s fame and incendiary statements, but not his organization. That will not be enough in the general elections where Trump will need to rely on the Republican Party machine, its staff, volunteers, and data, if he wants to win.

Trump’s Chances of Winning the Presidency

Despite all the divisions in the Republican Party, Hillary Clinton as the likely Democratic Party candidate is not guaranteed to win the forthcoming presidential elections. Clinton and Trump are among the least popular presidential candidates in US history in terms of voter negatives. [17] Clinton and the Democrats are also up against a different kind of candidate whose views, electoral tactics, and language are difficult to predict. The primaries proved that Trump’s incendiary and insulting statements did not detract but rather strengthened his position.

Clinton also seems incapable of uniting her party behind her; she does not inspire the support of the Democrat’s electoral base. These factors were expressed in a recent Quinnipiac University poll, which showed that Trump and Clinton were neck-and-neck in three key swing states: Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. [18] While Clinton leads among women on the national level and in those three states, Trump is ahead among white men on the national level and in the three states. The split goes further: Trump is ahead when it comes to metrics on ability to deal with the economy and terrorism, but Clinton leads in terms of rankings of intelligence, probity, and having the statesmanship to deal with international crises.

The demographics of the American electorate certainly favor Clinton in principle, with a majority of minority voter (African-Americans, Latinos, and others) and women backing her, but Trump has made significant breakthroughs among these groups. Therefore, any talk of a guaranteed victory for the Democrats is unrealistic, although Clinton remains the favorite to win.


In the run up to the November elections, the Republican Party and the United States with it—and perhaps the world as a whole— are at a crossroads. Some world leaders who once notably made fun of Trump, have hurried to adopt a more conciliatory tone. Where once British Prime Minister David Cameron outright denounced Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the US; former President of Mexico Vicente Fox guffawed at his suggestion of building a wall along the country’s border, and China Finance Minister Lou Jiwei called the candidate "irrational" over his proposed trade policies toward China, [19] they have all since softened their tones. With his rise to post as party candidate, world leaders have a reason to worry.

Trump adopts a more isolationist foreign policy approach than that currently taken by the Obama administration; it is also more inward looking than the previous Republican administration of George W. Bush. This worries US allies in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. In a speech at the end of April, Trump outlined what US foreign policy under his administration would look like. He asked his allies to make a greater contribution and take on some of the burdens the US has carried over the years if they wanted to continue to rely on its defensive shield. [20] Though concerning, this cannot be said to reveal much of what Trump wants on the international stage.

Given the possibility of Trump becoming ensconced in the White House, the nightmare dreaded by America and the World a few weeks ago may become a reality.


To read this Assessment Report as a PDF, please click here or on the icon above. This Report is an edited translation by the ACRPS Translation and English editing team. The original Arabic version appeared online on  May 12, 2016 and can be found here.


[1] Patrick Healy and Jonathan Martin, “Republican Party Unravels Over Donald Trump’s Takeover,” The New York Times, May 7, 2016, at: http://goo.gl/BQxxR6 

[2] Ibid.

[3] “Donald Trump Gives Foreign Policy Speech in Washington, D.C,” Breitbart, April 27, 2016, at: http://goo.gl/h71HlK

[4] Eric Bradner, “Paul Ryan: 'I'm just not ready' to back Donald Trump,” CNN, May 6, 2016, at: http://www.cnn.com/2016/05/05/politics/paul-ryan-donald-trump-gop-nominee/index.html

[5] Elliot Smilowitz, “Trump punches back: I'm not ready to support Ryan's agenda,” The Hill, May 5, 2016, at: http://goo.gl/FXMMAf

[6] Nicki Rossoll, “Donald Trump to Paul Ryan: 'This is What the People Want',” ABC News, May 6, 2016, at: http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/donald-trump-paul-ryan-people/story?id=38942373.

[7] Mary Spicuzza and Craig Gilbert, “Ryan says he would step down as convention chair if Trump asks,” The Journal Sentinel, May 9, 2016, at: http://goo.gl/biSZ6I.

[8] Chris Cillizza, “Paul Ryan smacked down Donald Trump. Here’s why,” The Washington Post, May 6, 2016, at: https://goo.gl/9nBsPW.

[9] Karl de Vries, “Sarah Palin will work to defeat Ryan in primary for Trump stance,” CNN, May 9, 2016, at: http://www.cnn.com/2016/05/08/politics/sarah-palin-paul-ryan-paul-nehlen-endorsement/

[10] Eric Bradner, “The GOP resistance to Donald Trump,” CNN, May 6, 2016, at: http://www.cnn.com/2016/05/05/politics/paul-ryan-donald-trump-republican-resistance/

[11] Maggie Haberman, Ashley Parker, and Nick Corasaniti, “Donald Trump, in Switch, Turns to Republican Party for Fund-Raising Help,” The New York Times, May 9, 2016, at: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/10/us/politics/donald-trump-campaign.html  

[12] Ibid.

[13] Eli Watkins, “GOP luminaries pick sides on Trump as party rift widens,” CNN, May 6, 2016, at: http://www.cnn.com/2016/05/06/politics/donald-trump-endorsements-paul-ryan-meeting/

[14] Bradner, “The GOP resistance….”

[15] Haberman, Parker, Corasaniti, “Donald Trump, in switch…”

[16] Ibid.

[17] Anthony Salvanto et al., “Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton viewed unfavorably by majority,” CBS News, March 21, 2016, at: http://goo.gl/D0f5oU

[18] “Clinton-Trump Close in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Quinnipiac University Swing State Poll Finds,” Quinnipiac University, May 10, 2016, at: https://goo.gl/RnzH5Y.

[19] Elise Labott, “World leaders scale back rhetoric on Donald Trump,” CNN, May 9, 2016, at: http://www.cnn.com/2016/05/09/politics/world-leaders-react-trump-presidency/

[20] Salvanto et al., “Donald Trump Gives Foreign Policy Speech….”