Last night's exit poll: 39% of Republican voters would consider a third party in a Trump/Hillary election

A leftover from yesterday’s preliminary exit poll but relevant today given the rumblings about a third party in the works.

Whoever ends up being nominated, at least a quarter of the party will be very unhappy.


If you’re trying to translate those percentages into shares of the total Republican electorate, ABC puts it at 23 percent who say Never Cruz, 26 percent who say Never Kasich (although that’s based on data from just two of the five states that voted last night), and 27 percent who say Never Trump. I’m going to guess that the Never Cruz and Never Kasich groups overlap heavily with the Only Trump group, i.e. the share of Trump voters who want Trump, Trump, and no one else but Trump. If anyone except His Trumpiness wins at the convention, kiss most of those votes goodbye. The Never Trump group is doubtless spread around more evenly among Cruz, Kasich, and Rubio fans. It has room to grow, too. Here’s what ABC found when it asked Republicans if they’d be open to a third party should Trump end up facing Hillary in November:


Figure at least half of that 39 percent will soften up once the party goes into full “Unite behind Donald!” mode this summer and fall, but if even 20 percent insist on voting for someone else this fall, that’s upwards of 10 points Trump would forfeit in the general election. He sounds skeptical that he can make them up. One way he could try is by pandering somehow to Bernie Sanders voters, who will themselves be looking around for a left-friendly populist alternative to their party’s nominee, but the further left Trump goes to appeal to them, the more soft support he risks alienating on the right. Hardcore Trumpists will stick with him no matter what, but again, they’re only a quarter to a third of the party. Another problem for Trump potentially is the sporadic confrontations to come with lefty activists a la what happened last week in Chicago. Those could be useful to him in shoring up support on the right, but they also damage his ability to reach out to anti-Hillary leftists. Remember, even amidst Berniemania, there’s no “Never Hillary” movement on the left as there is a “Never Trump” movement on the right. Bernie Sanders has criticized Trump sharply, as has Elizabeth Warren. Obama will campaign for Hillary this fall wherever she wants him to. All of the progressive idols will be firmly behind Clinton in the interest of stopping Trump. That makes outreach to liberals by Trump’s campaign highly risky given the chance that it’ll cost him votes among Republicans.

In fact, you could say that no one’s been better for Hillary in the Democratic primaries than Donald Trump:

Bad press is nothing new for Trump, but this week’s batch had a sinister edge to it. That didn’t hurt him among Republican voters — it may have even helped him — but Democrats and some Republicans are disturbed that Trump’s violent rhetoric and authoritarian posture hasn’t slowed his gallop to the GOP nomination. If you are a Democratic primary voter and you are on the fence between Clinton and Sanders, fear of Trump may well be enough to tip the balance toward Clinton, who seems like a surer bet to take down Trump in the general.

There is some evidence to back up this theory. The first is the exit polls from Tuesday’s election. There are arguments that Sanders is in a better position to beat Trump in a general election, but Democratic voters don’t seem to be buying them. Clinton has always led Sanders among voters who say electability is a key attribute in the Democratic nominee, and two-thirds of Democratic voters on Tuesday said Clinton is more electable than Sanders…

Here’s another bit of evidence that Trump may be helping Clinton: President Obama’s approval rating has risen to a three-year high of 51 percent, according to Gallup’s tracking poll. Gallup says most of Obama’s improved fortunes are due to rising support among Democrats, and posits that “the unusual status of the Republican primary race — exemplified in particular by frontrunner Donald Trump’s campaign style and rhetoric — may serve to make Obama look statesmanlike in comparison.”

Whether he beats Hillary or not is unclear. Whether he does it with a right-wing coalition that’s fractured is now certain, though, which is why more conservative writers are starting to argue that the GOP should wrest the nomination from Trump at the convention by any means necessary and accept the resulting schism as having been inevitable anyway. Ross Douthat made the case for that this weekend; David Harsanyi doubles down on it today. The dilemma lies in identifying which option will cost the party more legitimacy — denying Trump a nomination he won fair and square (assuming he clinches a majority of delegates) or sticking with Trump and supporting him in whatever havoc he wreaks going forward. Says Harsanyi, “Is it worth upsetting a bunch of angry, marginally conservative voters who often have a minor fidelity to the doctrines of your party, or are you prepared to put your political infrastructure and full weight behind a cartoonish, George Wallace-like character who’ll probably inflict more damage than you could ever hope to repair?”

Letting conservatives form their own third party potentially solves that dilemma by having Trump and his fans “borrow” the party this year, but that has risks all its own. If the third party sinks him in November, Trumpers will have their revenge by forming their own third party in elections going forward. If it doesn’t sink him, it proves that the GOP doesn’t need conservatives to win. Conservatives might even find that they like their new, more idealistic third party better than the GOP even though it has less of a chance of winning national elections. The Republican Party may end up as a rump with a few populist adherents here and there and a few conservative adherents here and there but without enough of either to win major races. The prudent thing, it would seem, would be to forego a third party this summer and let anti-Trump conservatives each go their own way — some reluctantly backing Trump, others staying home, others voting libertarian or some other existing third-party, some even voting Hillary. The risk in that case, though, is that a diffuse and scattershot anti-Trump effort wouldn’t be enough to stop him. If, as #NeverTrumpers claim, blocking a vulgar authoritarian is a matter of patriotic duty, they’re probably better off having their own nominee and party out there rallying the public for that cause. There’s no good solution to this problem anymore, I think. It’s Trump or schism. Pick your poison.

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