Every now and then, just for a fleeting moment or two, I put away my fatalism and consider that maybe the Republican establishment can’t nominate anyone it wants. And then the moment passes and I return to reality.
As for Trump, there’s been a raging debate for the past three months between people who think his surge is due to a cocktail of populism, “white identity politics,” and sheer alpha-male bravado and people who think it’s immigration, stupid. According to Pew: It’s immigration, stupid.
Trump is in the mid-30s, with an 18-point lead, among Republicans who are more likely to support a candidate who’ll deport all illegals. (Jeb Bush is at a breezy two percent.) Among those who say they’re less likely, Trump crashes all the way to 13 percent, several points behind Ben Carson and just five points ahead of Jeb. Interestingly, you see a similar result when voters are asked about taxing the rich. Again, Trump enjoys a huge lead among those who say they’re more likely to support a candidate who fits that description but flags behind Carson among those are cool to the idea — which is interesting given that Trump’s recently announced tax plan would actually slash the top income tax bracket from 39.6 percent to 25 percent and would eliminate the estate tax entirely. He’s built a populist reputation on taxes by slamming hedge-fund managers and the carried interest loophole but as a group the rich would do just fine under President Trump. What voters believe is true is more important than what’s actually true, though, and clearly GOP voters believe Trump would be a warrior for the middle class, shifting more of the fiscal burden to the upper crust and kicking out the illegals who threaten their jobs. Combine that with the fact that Republican voters in this poll are firmly hawkish abroad (69 percent want to end the Iran deal and 53 percent want ground troops to fight ISIS) and Dan McLaughlin is right: These are exactly the sort of “missing white voters” whom Sean Trende suspected of staying home in the 2012 election. Trump as nominee could mobilize this sort of Jacksonian, working class, but not rigidly conservative voter.
The question is, what parts of the GOP base that have been turning out for elections might stay home in protest rather than vote for him if he’s nominated? One possible answer from this poll is — ta da — conservatives. He still leads among that group according to Pew, but it’s a narrow advantage at 22/18 over Carson. Among moderates, by comparison, he’s cruising at 29/12. If that sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because Trump also performed comparatively weakly among conservatives in yesterday’s YouGov poll, with his favorable rating among that segment of the GOP shrinking from 57/35 in mid-September to 50/46 now. Word is apparently getting around that, as populist conservatives go, he’s a lot more populist than he is conservative, which is very good news for Ted Cruz. In fact, it’s probably because his numbers have taken a hit with conservatives specifically that Trump’s favorable rating among Republicans generally has begun to slip, to the point where it’s now well outside where a future GOP nominee’s numbers should be based on prior history. Go look at Harry Enten’s third graph here. Reagan was also a bit more unpopular than you’d expect among Republicans in 1980 relative to other major-party nominees but nowhere near as much as Trump is.
In lieu of an exit question, I’ll leave you with this. The preferred candidate of Republicans who value experience and a proven record over new ideas and a different approach is … Ben Carson?