Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
As we approach 2016, it suddenly is interesting to consider whether indeed the Trump campaign may have a real problem which few people really want to face, even within the Trump organization. There is no question that Trump is drawing big crowds in Iowa and even New Hampshire and the national polls continue to show that his support throughout the country is very impressive. The problem is that state caucuses and primaries are generally won by a candidate who has a truly impressive ground game.
To win a caucus and/or a primary a candidate must have establish a full scale operation to bring out the caucus voters and the primary supporters. In Iowa there is not only a need to turn out for the caucus and to understand the rules, but to be prepared to hang around generally for at least three hours in the evening. In New Hampshire, primary vote supporters need constant attention, especially on Election Day to bring voters to the polls. While this is true in all states—caucus or primary—it is particularly critical in the early voting states. Momentum is key and needs to be established by any candidate if they presume to have a chance at getting the nomination.
For Trump it is not clear if he has the troops all lined up to caucus in Iowa or to get out the vote (GOTV) in New Hampshire, despite the fact that he is garnering wide public interest and support in both states. If he fails to give an impressive showing in these first states and perhaps in South Carolina and Nevada as well, his entire race for the Republican nomination may suddenly be in jeopardy.
Trump’s has an additional problem. He really does not like playing by rules other than his own. Politics—whether Republican primary rules or general election rules—involve accepting the rules and procedures of the party and 50 different sets of state rules or the national election rules. If Trump does not succeed in the early states because he failed to organize adequately his forces to get his supporters to caucus or to vote for him, it could still well lead to the possibility that Trump will walk away from the Republican Party and run as independent; money would ertainly not be his problem.
Trump will argue as he has done consistently already, that all the polls show him way ahead, so why does he even need to get into this state by state-caucus by caucus system. He is ahead, the people love him and who needs to worry about rules and elections. If he decides to play this game, it could be a really nasty mess not only for the Republican Party to consider but for this democracy to confront.