Reuters headlines its story about this poll, “Exclusive: Blocking Trump could hurt Republicans in election.” Which is accurate, although it’s just as accurate that nominating Trump could hurt Republicans by alienating #NeverTrumpers (as well as many, many, many swing voters). All of that is old news, though. Republicans have understood for months that some small but important chunk of the party is walking away after the convention no matter who the nominee is.
The real takeaway here is just how many Trumpers say they’re willing to stick with the party this fall even if Trump gets shafted in Cleveland. I never would have guessed it’s as high as 66 percent. In fact, I would have guessed at this point that half or more of Trump’s fans would boycott the general election even if Cruz beat him fair and square in the remaining primaries to get to 1,237 delegates before the convention. It’s Trump or bust for his famously loyal fans, and if the bust involves, ahem, “theft” at the convention, then it’s war — supposedly. If you believe Reuters, that’s all wrong. The most devoted third of Trump’s supporters will walk but the others are ready, however grudgingly, to line up for Cruz and beat Hillary.
That’s not a poll of Republicans generally, it’s a poll of Republicans who support Trump. And still, 66 percent are prepared to vote for a non-Trump nominee. Granted, that number doesn’t include pro-Trump independents, who’ve been showing up for him in open primaries all spring. Many of those voters will be goners in November, as any Trump fan will eagerly tell you. The question, though, in weighing Cruz’s electability against Trump’s isn’t limited to how many new voters Trump’s unorthodox coalition might bring to the party. It’s also a question of how many current Republican voters would be alienated by either of them. Cruz will turn out Republican Party regulars, which means he’ll likely start with most of Romney’s 2012 base intact. Trump will, in theory, turn out plenty of GOP irregulars, but the thing about irregulars is that they’re unpredictable. You don’t know how many you can count on, and in the meantime many regulars whom you normally do count on will head for the hills. Adding five million votes from people who didn’t back Romney in 2012 doesn’t help if it costs you seven million votes from people who did. (Unless the first group is based mostly in swing states while the second second group is based mostly in safe states, which is statistically unlikely.) Jonathan Last runs through some math:
But the Trump-wins-by-turning-out-white-Republicans theory breaks down fatally when you look at where Trump is with every other group. In order to claw his way into the poor position he’s in with white voters, Trump has cheesed off every other demographic group: He’s minus-53 with self-described moderates; minus-62 with voters age 18 to 34; minus-71 with Hispanics.
In order to beat Hillary Clinton, Trump has to outdo the Romney 2012 numbers. But even if he does better among white voters—and right now it looks like he’ll do worse—it does no good if he can’t stay at Romney’s level among other groups. And Trump is poised to do much worse than Romney with just about everyone else.
He’s already viewed unfavorably in national polls among non-college-educated whites and white men, who are supposed to favor Trump so heavily that they’ll turn out in record numbers to help him overcome his deficit with various other groups. And Last makes another good point: Although Trump’s numbers did improve dramatically among Republicans soon after he entered the race last summer, they haven’t improved much since then. He hit 30 percent in a national poll for the first time at the end of last August, less than three months after he announced his candidacy. Seven months later, he’s only managed to add 10 points or so to that number in most primaries while watching his numbers sink among the rest of the electorate. “That shows you how hard it is,” writes Last, “for a candidate to convert marginal voters who aren’t naturally part of their coalition.” How does Trump get from the mid-30s among Republicans, where he’s been spinning his wheels for months, to the low 50s with the general electorate in the span of about four months when everyone already knows who he is and has a strong opinion — typically very unfavorable — about him?
That’s not the only fantasy math happening in Trumpworld either. Data journalists tracking the delegate fight are laughing at this quote:
“Our target date is June 7, but our goal is in the middle of May to be the presumptive nominee,” Paul Manafort, Trump’s newly installed convention manager who has been given broad authority to shape the campaign going forward, said in a wide-ranging interview here…
“After Wyoming, [Cruz] is done,” Manafort said. “We’re going to have our act together. We’re going to start putting numbers on the board and that will become infectious.”
There’s just no way Trump will be in a position to clinch by mid-May, says Nate Silver, even if he sweeps everything between now and then. Breitbart, the most prominent pro-Trump site on the Internet, guesstimated a few days ago that he’ll still be 50-100 delegates short even after the final primary in California in June 7th. Thanks to the rout engineered by Team Cruz for Colorado’s delegates at the state convention, Trump now needs to win 60 percent of the delegates the rest of the way to clinch before the convention at a moment when the non-Trump vote in the primaries is consolidating behind Cruz. What Manafort’s doing with this comment, I assume, is signaling that he’s going to try to not only woo the unbound delegates that are still out there but to peel away many that have already committed to Cruz, which would bump up Trump’s total behind the scenes. That’s mighty ambitious, though, given just how much disorganization among state volunteers and campaign staff he’s going to need to sort out. (Yikes.) He’s been brought in, basically, to conduct an orchestra, except that half the orchestra’s missing and the other half doesn’t know how to play their instruments. What’s that going to sound like?
In lieu of an exit question, here’s your thought for the day. As the man himself would say: Sad!