How Smart Is Donald Trump?


Donald Trump is now officially the presumptive Republican nominee for president. But what kind of chance does he have of winning in November?

I’d guess “pretty slim,” but it depends on a couple of things. First, does anything horrible happen between now and the election—say, a terrorist attack, a financial crash, or Hillary Clinton being indicted for her email woes? Any of those could sweep him into office, but since they’re entirely unpredictable there’s not much point in worrying about them.

Second, just how smart is Trump? Here’s what worries me: in retrospect, we can see that Trump played the rest of the GOP field like a Stradivarius. He somehow managed to get his strongest competitors, Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, out of the running early. He didn’t waste much energy on obvious losers like Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina. Then he zeroed in on Marco Rubio. In the end, he was left only with Ted Cruz, possibly the most disliked man on the planet.

Was this deliberate? The entire Republican Party would have rallied around Rubio if he’d been the last man standing, and that could very well have turned things around. But Cruz was never much of a threat to Trump. He’s got a smarmy personality that doesn’t appeal to the public, and a contemptuous disposition that has made virtually every Republican politician on Capitol Hill into a sworn enemy. Even faced with a Trump freight train bearing down on them, they couldn’t bring themselves to circle the wagons and work for a Cruz victory.

So: Did Trump actively try to make sure that Cruz would be his final opponent? Is he that smart and that proficient at executing a long-term strategy? Or did he just get lucky? The answer to that question might determine what happens in November.