As a political scientist, I am reluctant to make predictions about elections, especially about the behavior of a single individual. But I'm willing to make an exception this year, because the presidential campaign is turning out to be such an exceptionally crucial (and entertaining) one. Here is what I see as the step-by-step best case scenario for putting a Democrat in the White House next year, with a little help from Donald Trump.
1. From now until the end of this year, the other GOP presidential candidates continue to criticize Trump, particularly for his outrageous remarks about John McCain's military record. They say he does not represent Republican values and is unfit to be president. (During the Vietnam war, Trump received several draft deferments and did not serve in the military).
2. Trump refuses to apologize or to abandon his campaign for the GOP nomination. Throughout 2015, he continues to attract large crowds and major media coverage as he travels around the country appealing to the Tea Party and Hair Club for Men crowds.
3. Panicked by Trump's momentum, all the other GOP candidates -- Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, Rand Paul, Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson and George Pataki, Lindsay Graham, and Rick Perry, except Ben Carson and Ted Cruz -- spend a large chunk of their respective campaign funds and press interviews denouncing Trump, giving him even more media attention.
4. In February 2016, Trump comes in first, second or third in the first wave of GOP primaries and caucuses (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada), in large part because there are so many candidates -- most of them indistinguishable in terms of their conservative policy ideas -- that Trump can win the gold, silver, or bronze simply by getting 10% to 20% of the vote.
5. On Super Tuesday and throughout March 2016, The Donald continues to rack up GOP convention delegates by coming in first, second or third in a number of state primaries.
6. By April 2016, many of the weaker Republican candidates drop out and the GOP field narrows to a few front-runners -- Bush, Rubio, and Walker. Trump now realizes that he can't win the GOP nomination in this smaller field. His hard core of enthusiastic supporters -- now reduced to 7% to 10% of likely Republican voters in the remaining primaries -- isn't sufficient to overtake these other remaining candidates.
7. In mid-April 2016, an angry but still upbeat Trump announces that he's dropping out of the Republican race. Instead, he says, he'll run for president as an independent and will form the Trump for America Party as his political vehicle. He brags that he's willing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars of his own money on his campaign. (Trump claims he's worth $10 billion but Forbes magazine says it is $4.1 billion. Either way, even an expensive presidential campaign is pocket change to the man who inherited a real estate fortune from his father).
8. Within minutes of his announcement, Trump gets a call from Sarah Palin, asking him to make her his vice presidential running mate. Trump quickly consults with his closest campaign advisor (himself) and agrees. While still on the phone with Trump, Palin insists that she needs at least $400,000 for her campaign wardrobe. After a few minutes of negotiation, Trump changes his mind. "You're fired," he tells Palin. He decides he doesn't really need a running mate, who might divert media attention away from him.
9. Trump puts his entire policy platform on one side of a 4 inch by 5 inch piece of cardboard which he calls the Trump Card. The other side of the Trump Card has a smiling photo of the candidate with the following offer written on the bottom: "Bring this card to any Trump hotel or casino in the United States and receive a 10% discount." He mails one to every registered voter in the United States.
10. Freed from the need to accumulate GOP delegates, Trump focuses his independent campaign on 10 key battleground states. Top Republican strategists and candidates worry that Trump could be a "spoiler," siphoning off enough GOP votes to hand the November election to the Democratic candidates.
11. Appeals from big-time GOP donors (including the Koch brothers and fellow casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson) as well as the heads of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Right-to-Life Committee, and the National Rifle Association urging him to drop out of the race land on Trump's deaf ears. Many people and organizations that still do business with the Trump corporate empire sever their contracts. Organizations with conventions scheduled at Trump hotels cancel them and urge others to boycott his businesses. Despite this, Trump continues to pursue his quixotic campaign, using the slogan, "America Needs Me."
12. The Republicans nominate Bush, Walker or Rubio as their presidential candidate at their convention in Cleveland in July. That same month, the Democrats nominate Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders as their standard-bearer.
13. The Republican candidate's campaign, and dozens of "independent" political action committees and non-profit groups (run by the Koch brothers, Karl Rove, the American Bankers Association, and others) raise and spend hundreds of millions of dollars for TV and radio ads attacking Trump -- money they would otherwise have spent attacking the Democratic nominee.
14. The mainstream media have a field day covering the three-way presidential contest. Although Trump is a distant third in all the polls, he gets an inordinate amount of media attention for his increasingly outrageous and controversial comments about immigrants, African Americans, school teachers, Muslims, homosexuals, liberals, unions, government-mandated vaccinations, the possible use of nuclear weapons in the Middle East, food stamp recipients, poor people, military veterans, and his Republican and Democratic rivals. At every campaign event, reporters ask him if he intends to apologize to John McCain. He continues to refuse to do so.
15. From July through late October, almost every major daily newspaper publishes at least one editorial attacking Trump, but he gets sympathetic coverage from Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and other right-wing radio talk shows, and the ultra-conservative blogosphere, including white supremacist websites.
16. On Election Day in November 2016, Trump wins 3% to 5% of the total vote in key swing states like Florida, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Ohio, and Indiana, siphoning off enough votes from the GOP candidate to hand those states' Electoral College votes to the Democratic nominee.
17. Thanks to Trump, the Democratic candidate -- Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders -- wins the White House.
After the campaign is over, Trump purchases a remote island off the coast of Greece. He retires from his business empire to write a dystopian book about the future of America, although he offers to open a Trump hotel and casino "to provide jobs to the Greek people so they won't come to America as their economy collapses."
Trump refuses to allow reporters or visitors (with the exception of Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Don King, Anton Scalia, and Ann Coulter) to visit or interview him at his island hideaway. However secret aerial photographs of his retreat mansion reveal that Trump flies both the American and Confederate flags on his front lawn.
"I'm a patriot," Trump tells Limbaugh in his first post-election interview. "I like all of America, including the South. Hell, I own half of Southern Manhattan."