Opinion: Can Donald Trump's momentum be stopped?

Opinion: Donald J. Trump's election momentum is now based on more than sporadic polls, crowd numbers and considered reckons from TV analysts.

It seems inevitable, doesn't it? 

After a sweeping victory in the Iowa caucuses, Donald J. Trump's election momentum is now based on more than sporadic polls, crowd numbers and considered reckons from TV analysts, because he now has a mighty result on paper to back up the hype. It prompts one to consider whether after securing such a comprehensive victory, the race for the Republican nomination is already over before it has barely begun. 

"Life was better under President Trump"

It is hard to put Trump supporters in a simple box, casting them as right-wing and rural, conservatives or cowboys, uneducated and unsophisticated. That is what we often see in a short sound bite on screen, but in my experience that is not the reality. 74 million people voted for runner-up Donald Trump in the last presidential election, and they cannot all fall into one or two simple categories. Trump's crowd is from all walks of life in all cities in every state. On the ground, it feels like they are growing more confident, and starting to rise again. 

I have lived in the United States for only a year and a half, and one of my first assignments for Newshub as its US Correspondent was reporting from a Trump rally in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. It was an eye-opening experience, and it is where I first started gaining an insight into what Trump voters see in him that others do not. It is something I have found New Zealanders have an interest in, and I am regularly asked questions like "How on earth can they support him?" or "What do they see in Donald Trump." There are many answers but there is one reason I hear from people I speak to more than any other, and it became starkly apparent to me on the campaign trail during the last week in Iowa. "My life was better when Donald Trump was the President."  

One voter expressed the view of her peers to me at a rodeo event ahead of the caucuses last week. "The results are what I think people are starting to realise might matter more than whether or not somebody's likeable on camera". Others told us plainly they "had more money", under President Trump. 

Was life better under President Trump? It depends on what measures you choose to base your assessment. The Washington Post analysed and compared economic data from both administrations in an article published in December. It notes that under Trump, Americans experienced low inflation, low interest rates and low gas prices. President Biden's America is also reveling in a strong economy, which has added 14 million new jobs and seen millions of dollars of student debt reduced. Among voters though, Biden's achievements are not cutting through. Various polls including one by the Associated Press illustrate the doom and gloom Americans feel about the economy. 

Mitch McCann speaks to a Trump supporter in the US.
Mitch McCann speaks to a Trump supporter in the US. Photo credit: Newshub.

Campaign rallies to Courthouses 

In March, the former President will begin a grueling season of criminal trials alongside an equally grueling electoral campaign. Each day Trump will be greeted by the harsh fluorescent lights of court rooms in New York, Washington, Florida, and Georgia. He will be told how he covered up hush money payments to a porn star, how he tried to overthrow an election, and then stole classified documents. He will then fly to campaign rallies where he will be greeted by tens of thousands of his supporters hanging on to every rambling word he says. 

To Trump's loyalists, it's all "bullshit", I was told recently when interviewing his supporters. There is a frank and genuine belief the 91 charges levelled against him are politically motivated. This is how two supporters put it who I spoke to last week. 

"I think a lot of them are made up charges", while the other voter said, "It just comes down to how much you can make up, how many lies you can create about somebody, to put em' on the wrong side of the track". 

Trump's ascent to the nomination could be sealed by the 19th of March, after the upcoming primary votes, and may then be confirmed at the Republican convention later in the year. It could be even earlier if other candidates abandon their own ambitions leaving Trump as the only realistic candidate left in the running. The next primary election is taking place tomorrow in New Hampshire.  

National polls already show Trump leading President Biden in a showdown this November, which will be of enormous concern to the incumbent.  Even with Trump's legal problems, there is skepticism over how many of these cases will go ahead, as his legal team seeks every delay the law can allow them. 

Mitch McCann speaks to Donald Trump Jr.
Mitch McCann speaks to Donald Trump Jr. Photo credit: Newshub.

If Trump were convicted in a court, he could still become the President according to most scholars. I previously interviewed Georgetown University Professor David Super about that scenario in an interview last year. When asked if Trump could run for President from behind bars, and win the election from prison, Professor Super told me "He could certainly run for office".  

"He's not legally required to be free of convictions and free of indictments. But as a practical matter, he's not going to jail before the election." Professor Super points to the security nightmare that would come with a president being sent to prison and the logistical trouble it would create for the Secret Service. 

The US Supreme Court 

It feels like America is careening toward an historic decision over Donald Trump's eligibility, perhaps the only thing that could derail his ascent. In the coming month, the US Supreme Court could decide on that matter. Colorado's Supreme Court decided Trump could not be on its ballot for his role in the January 6 Capitol Riots. The US Supreme Court could decide the lower court's ruling was correct and apply an ineligibility ruling nationally - although this seems very unlikely. 

The case will be argued on February 8, and the court's decision could come soon after. 

The Return?

To some it feels like an eternity since President Trump reigned over a chaotic White House, besieged by inner turmoil, leaks, and high-profile staff leaving or being fired. The reality is; however, Trump could return to 1600 Pennsylvania avenue this time next year after winning the election. To his supporters, bedlam in the Oval Office mightn't be major factor in deciding who to vote for. Instead, Republicans are prioritizing immigration, gas prices, the cost of living and abortion legislation. All issues they say were under control in the last administration, when "life was better under President Trump". 

Mitch McCann is Newshub's US correspondent.