While the Trump brand of gambling casinos has had a mixed record of success through the years, gambling has almost certainly played a major role in boosting Trump’s personal bottom line. In the political world, though, the players are normally reluctant to take a big gamble. The stakes are usually too high. But anyone watching the recent events in South Carolina would have seen Trump gambling in ways that suggest he does not believe the normal rules of politics apply to him.
The Republican Presidential debate from Greeneville, SC, came a week ahead of Saturday’s South Carolina primary. Before a network TV audience of millions of viewers, Mr. Trump attacked former President George W. Bush in harsh, personal tones. President Bush, Trump claimed, knew Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction but still started the war in Iraq. What’s more, Trump insisted Bush was responsible for 9/11. Trump went so far as to claim the 9/11 attacks never would have happened if he had been President at the time. Trump even left a little time to call Ted Cruz a liar and declare that Planned Parenthood isn’t really so bad after all.
Trump’s debate performance left the establishment pundits, editorial writers and bloggers sputtering in disbelief. The conventional wisdom was nearly unanimous: The war of words with the Bush family was a disaster for Trump. This time, the pundits judged, Trump went too far and would pay the price on February 20. Instead, a few days later, Trump’s big victory in the South Carolina primary overshadowed what happened a week earlier.
Still, the outcome of the February 13 Republican debate holds some important clues as to how Donald Trump intends to conduct the rest of his Presidential campaign. If nothing else, the debate justified Trump’s big gamble that he could get away with saying things the other candidates simply could not say. In the year of the “outsider” candidate, that approach has a lot of appeal. Trump’s base of anti-establishment, independent voters from both of the major political parties is large enough right now to make him competitive in all of the coming March 1 “Super Tuesday” primaries.
However, professional gamblers might have a few words of advice for Mr. Trump. The odds might be in Trump’s favor right now, but they could change without a moment’s notice. The evidence that his antics are wearing thin with voters will be an indication of softening support. Even though Mr. Trump would have preferred to slug it out with Jeb Bush from this point forward, not even Trump’s big words can make that happen. All signs point to a Trump-Cruz two-man race on March 1 and perhaps beyond. Betting on the outcome of that confrontation could be a risky gamble indeed.