How has Trump’s entry changed the race?
It created a false zombie front-runner. He’s dead politically, he’ll never be president of the United States, ever. By definition I don’t think you can be a front-runner if you’re totally un-electable. I think there’s there an a-priori logic problem in that.
Has he been dead since he got in?
I think so, yeah. So there’s no meaningful outcome to it. But the question is what kind of catalyst is it? It’s a huge amount of noise and so we’re trying to find the signal in all this. You’ve seen Trump start to drop now. I think it’ll be a very slow drop, but I think he’ll continue to drop and the question is: is he ready to lose primaries, will he stay in? And nobody knows the answer to that.
So if his collapse is inevitable, have you been able to discern how his support disperses?
Yeah, I think in his lane the guy with the most opportunity will probably be Cruz. Voters have some resistance, it seems, to go to Cruz, there’s something there they don’t like, but in that lane I would think he’d have the opportunity.
Is Trump unelectable in a general election? Maybe, although only marginally more so than Jeb Bush right now. His average favorable rating is 37/55 versus 34/49 for Jeb. He’s certainly not “totally unelectable,” as Murphy claims. If Hillary is further weakened by scandal, if the economy slows down, if Trump has as much success appealing to center-left white blue-collar voters as he’s had appealing to center-right white blue-collar ones in the primary, he’d be competitive. What Murphy’s counting on here, it seems, is the great mass of Republican voters slowly coming to believe that Trump couldn’t possibly win a general election and therefore must be denied the nomination at all costs. That theory seemed plausible during the first flush of Trumpmania in July. How does it feel today?
Are Trump’s polls starting to drop? They did a few weeks ago, after the second debate, when Fiorina took off and Rubio ticked upward. Trump seemed to have hit a new ceiling. But then:
He’s not (yet) back to his 30 percent high but he’s back above 25 percent in RCP’s poll average. That was the point of my last post — that his small decline had ended and he’d regained some ground in national polls lately. If you don’t trust national polls, though, note that the latest poll of New Hampshire has him up 17 points and the latest one of South Carolina has him up 18. I don’t know what Murphy’s counting as a decline for Trump here. In fact, go back to late August and you’ll see that Trump’s national polling average is up four points while Jeb Bush’s is down nearly four. If Trump is “starting to drop” because he’s off his highest peak, how should we describe Jeb’s numbers?
Will Trump’s voters really go to Cruz if/when he drops out? Regular readers know I’ve been skeptical of that. Trump is popular with tea partiers, but he’s just as popular with moderates, if not more so. His supporters are not, shall we say, sticklers for conservative orthodoxy the way Cruz’s base is, especially when it comes to things like protectionism. Cruz, for all his “outsider” cred, lacks the financial independence that Trump enjoys. He’ll owe favors to the many big donors bankrolling him. So why, apart from immigration, would Trump fans transition to Cruz? Ross Douthat wonders too — and makes a nice point about whose voters Trump might really be drawing from:
[A] lot of Trump’s constituency is more working class, more politically moderate, and somewhat less religious than the median G.O.P. voter. He’s much closer to a Perotista/radical middle candidate, in other words, than he is to a movement-conservative, RINO-hunting right-wing purist … which is why RINO-hunting enforcers like the Club for Growth are chomping at the bit to take him on.
This reality makes me a little bit dubious of the assumption that if Trump fades, his voters will just naturally swing to Cruz; I’m just not sure the Texas senator’s mix of on-his-sleeve evangelicalism and Tea Party positioning is a natural fit for a secular-ish blue collar constituency. Where they would go I’m not sure (though at the moment they aren’t exactly going anywhere!), but the irony of Murphy’s misreading is this: The real Trump message (growth! opportunity! greatness!) is arguably a version of the one that Jeb Bush is supposed to be offering with his “why not 4 percent growth” pitch, and the real Trump constituency (working class, economically moderate) is roughly the constituency that Bush’s “right to rise” message was seemingly supposed to win. And indeed, if you eyeball the polling around the time that Trump entered the race, it sure looks like he took some support from Bush and Marco Rubio, both of whom dipped as he began to rise
If Bush wants to win, Douthat theorizes, it won’t be enough to eliminate Rubio and Christie and consolidate their voters. He’ll have to win back some of his own lost supporters from Trump. How does he do that? And why doesn’t his Super PAC guru seem to recognize the problem, apart from a general suspicion that if Republicans are given a binary choice between Bush and Trump, they’ll choose Bush on electability grounds (“Oh, I’d love a two-way race with Trump at the end, yeah”)? There are various head-to-head metrics out there showing Trump actually winning an either/or contest with Jeb and Murphy surely knows it. It’s too much, I guess, to expect real candor from a guy with a rooting interest in this race, knowing that donors will be poring over today’s interview for encouragement. The best spin for Trumpmania naysayers today remains the same as it was three months ago: It’ll end because, well, it just has to end. We’re not going to nominate the guy from “The Apprentice” because we’re just not, okay, so don’t overthink it. That’s the gist of Murphy’s “argument” here.
Actually, never mind all the Trump stuff. Here’s the real takeaway from the interview: When push comes to shove, Murphy thinks no one else has the ability and willingness to spend the kind of money Jeb Bush will spend when ad dollars count the most.
We see Feb. 1 to March 15, 45 days, as our period to seize the nomination and get in front—and there are a lot of states and a lot of congressional districts and a lot of targeting to that. One of the reasons we’ve worked so hard and Jeb, frankly, has inspired so many people to donate to us is so we have the resources to pursue that campaign. Most of these other guys are all running on spec. We’re at a point now where we’re significantly funded for those 45 days, cash in the bank today. Nobody else is in that situation in this race. Nobody’s close…
For most of these guys, it’s: Well, lightning’s going to strike, Jindal-mania is going to hit the New Hampshire primary, I’m going to win and I’m suddenly going to turn around a ton of money and then I’m going to run the momentum all the way through March. Here’s the problem with that: let’s say it’s the 10th of February, you have won the New Hampshire primary two days ago. You’re only 20 days out so you should be on the air already…
March 1, yeah. And so how do you turn enough money on to actually get on the air fast enough to have an impact? Well, what does 1,400 points—decent, well-targeted points—cost in the March 1 states? About 26 million bucks.
If you want to win the “SEC primary” in the south on March 1st, you’ll need to pony up for airtime well in advance, which means any fundraising windfall that the winner in Iowa or New Hampshire gets will be too late to help. Only Jeb, with his vast war chest, is already prepared to spend what he needs to spend. Except … I’m not sure that’s true. It may be true that Bush’s Super PAC is better armed than the competition right now, but that could change instantly once Sheldon Adelson endorses Rubio or Trump decides to go all in with his own money on winning the nomination. Ted Cruz has also been eyeing the southern primaries for months as his prospective “firewall.” He’s run a tight ship so far; he won’t get caught unprepared for the ad war there. And how many millions in ads would Jeb need to undo the bad press he’ll undoubtedly get if he finishes, say, third in New Hampshire behind Trump and Rubio? This idea that the early states are just something to survive until the “real” primary starts in late February and March is fine spin for jittery donors, but it’s unconvincing. Although it does signal, for the moment at least, that Bush is in this for the long haul, no matter how tepid his polling remains this winter.