Lot of this going around lately. Lindsey Graham told a New Hampshire TV affiliate last week that he’s liable to “oversleep” on election day 2016 if Republicans nominate Trump. Now here’s Reid Ribble (Update: Right Wisconsin had it first) insisting that not only won’t he vote for Trump, other Republicans on Capitol Hill have told him they won’t either. Quietly, I should say — they told him that quietly. Saying it loudly where others might hear is apt to have bad consequences for the party. Right, Jeff Flake?
Two things here. One: I could easily find you “dozens and dozens” of Republicans on Twitter who won’t vote for Marco Rubio if he’s the nominee because he sold them out by backing a terrible immigration bill. There are probably fewer Republicans who would balk at Rubio than would balk at Trump — Rubio’s a conservative with a few liberal exceptions whereas Trump’s a liberal with a few conservative exceptions — but let’s not pretend like the donor class’s dreamboat is acceptable to everyone either. Two: Most of these people are lying, whether they know it or not. Primaries are always full of “I won’t vote for X if he’s nominated” blather because each guy’s voters are invested in him and as divisions sharpen up, that investment can turn bitter. Plenty of Romney-haters swore they’d never vote for a man who paved the way for ObamaCare by passing RomneyCare in Massachusetts only to grudgingly pull the lever for him anyway in 2012 because, as usual, even a bad Republican is better than a Democrat. Most Rubio-haters would end up the same way after six months of Hillary propaganda demagoging them as racist and sexist for their political beliefs. (How many Rubio-haters voted for McCain in 2008 despite his much longer record pushing amnesty?)
The conservative anti-Trump contingent might be different, though, because Trump himself is so different. Weighing Rubio versus Hillary means deciding between a guy who’d govern conservatively and agree to an amnesty with some new enforcement measures against a woman who’d govern liberally and agree to a mega-amnesty whether there’s security attached or not. Even if you hate Rubio, that’s an easy call. Weighing Trump against Hillary is harder because there’s reason to think he’d govern from the center-left economically and, to the extent that he veered right, that it might be mostly on occasional showy panders like a Muslim travel ban that wouldn’t actually do anything to stop terrorism (and might not even last long depending upon how much heat he took for it). Unlike Cruz or Rubio, Trump as president could redefine what it means to be a Republican, to the exclusion of conservatism, for a generation. If you vote for him over Hillary, you’re accepting that risk in return for no real assurances of what you’re getting policy-wise or even whether it’ll be substantially more right-wing than what Hillary’s offering. This is why I’m skeptical of the “lifelong Republicans” who are telling Joe Scarborough that they won’t vote for Trump or Ted Cruz. Those two are night and day. You can think Cruz is charmless and that his populist mien is phony while also believing he’s a good conservative. He’s a known quantity politically, like him or not. He’s unquestionably worth supporting as nominee over Hillary.
But so will Trump be to most GOPers if he’s the nominee. I think the absolute floor for a major party candidate in a general election in our polarized age is around 45 percent. Trump could spend the summer and fall on the trail next year farting into his microphone for fun and he’d probably do no worse than lose to Hillary by 10 points, around the same margin that McCain did in 2008. You can actually get a glimpse of this in his polling among Latinos: As bad as his favorable ratings among that group tend to be in most polls, I don’t think I’ve seen one yet showing him doing worse head to head against Hillary among Latinos than Romney did against Obama in 2012. Romney appears to have reached the absolute floor with that group which Trump, for all the media heavy breathing about “Mexican rapists” and mass deportation, can’t break through. In fact, here’s what Monmouth found today when it asked Republicans how they’ll feel if Trump is nominee:
The “dissatisfieds” will all come around and even many of the “upsets” will ultimately be swayed by a year’s worth of partisan politics. Besides, one virtue of Trump’s centrism and yuuuuge charisma gap with Hillary is that he’ll pick off a few Democrats too to offset the lost Republicans. He’ll still lose, probably badly, but the age of 20-point blowouts in presidential races is over — partly because the phenomenon of “I won’t vote for X as nominee” among partisans is largely over too.