The key bit starts up front, at 2:00, but if you can’t be bothered to listen the transcript is here. There are two schools of thought among #NeverTrumpers about Trump’s chances, although how much is thought and how much is mere coping mechanism is debatable. One is typified by this worthy Liam Donovan piece last week in NRO: Trump is doomed. He can’t win. The electoral map, national demographics, an energized Democratic Party — all of it will conspire, like the wind ginning itself up to become a tornado, into a force majeure that’ll wipe Trump and his fan base away. Don’t give it a second thought. He’s done. The other school of thought is this: Anything can happen. Trump has his fans more excited about a presidential election than Republicans have been in decades. He’s charismatic, he’s superb at staying on the attack, and he enjoys an attractive veneer of celebrity glamour that Hillary, despite her own considerable fame, simply can’t match. More importantly, Hillary is a relentlessly terrible politician. She can talk her way through a debate but that’s about all she can do. She’s utterly mismatched with the populist fever of the country on both sides.
If you’re a #NeverTrumper in Group A, you might be using the theory that Trump’s defeat is inevitable to soothe your own screaming terror that this guy really could be elected leader of the free world. If you’re in Group B, you might be using the theory that he’s destined to win to soothe your own crushing humiliation that conservatives failed to stop him in the primaries. After all, if he beats Hillary, that means the Republican Party’s failure to stop Trump wasn’t some unique failing by Republican voters. It’d mean the whole country is in civic collapse, not just conservatives. Whew! We’re off the hook!
As a corollary to all of that, #NeverTrumpers in Group A tend to believe that a conservative third-party challenge is a terrible, counterproductive idea. Which makes sense: If Trump’s going to lose anyway, why do you need to go to any extra trouble to defeat him? All you’ll succeed in doing is widening Hillary’s margin of victory and breeding a lasting bitterness in Trump fans that’ll cripple the party’s attempts at unity for many election cycles to come. By contrast, if you’re in Group B, you’re more open to a third party. The risk of creating a permanent schism within the right is real, but it’s already real even without a third party — and meanwhile the risk of a catastrophic Trump presidency is dire. He’ll end conservatism as a national force and sideline its adherents, forcing them to choose between liberalism and ethno-nationalism as the direction of the country. You can’t expect a Democrat as inept as Clinton to avert that without help.
Beck’s in Group B (although I’m not sure if he’s given his views on a third-party challenge yet). I think he’s right that Trump stands a fair chance of winning, mainly due to Hillary’s relentless terribleness. A lefty friend warned me last night as the West Virginia returns came in not to underestimate how deeply the left hates Clinton. The divide between her base and Bernie fans gets overlooked on our side to some extent, partly because the GOP’s caught in its own intraparty war right now and partly because all liberals look alike ideologically from this distance, but Hillary has real work to do in reconciling progressives to her nomination. And for a politician as charmless as her, that’s harder than it sounds. Beck is correct that her weakness more than Trump’s supposed strength is likely to make him president, just as he’s also correct that “star power” will get Trump an extra look from swing voters. I’d be careful, though, about reading too much into the exit polls he cites from West Virginia. He’s right that a lot of Bernie Sanders voters in WV said they’d prefer Trump to Hillary: They split 44/23 on that question. Even more amazing, 39 percent of Sanders voters said they’d prefer Trump to Sanders this fall. How can that be? Is Trump winning Democratic converts en masse?
Well, no, or not yet if the national polls are any indication. But that’s plausible in West Virginia because of the state’s unusual demographics. There are many, many more registered Democrats there than Republicans (51/29) and yet the state reliably breaks Republican in presidential elections. They’re quite Trumpy in their political orientation, open to bigger government (especially big-government protectionism) but culturally conservative and Jacksonian in outlook. Trump was expected to wipe Cruz out there even before Cruz left the race. All of which is to say, the “Democrats” who preferred Trump to Hillary or Bernie Sanders last night aren’t Democrats in a meaningful sense when it comes to presidential politics. They’re reliable Republicans. And on top of all that, West Virginia was an open primary; the GOP race was uncompetitive since Trump is the last man standing whereas the Democratic race was hotly contested. Republican-leaning independents may have decided to vote on the Democratic side en masse purely in the interest of humiliating Hillary Clinton, which would explain why so many so-called “Sanders voters” were actually pro-Trump. Some were only Sanders voters last night, for strategic reasons. None of that undermines the broader case for taking Trump seriously as a threat to win the presidency, but if you’re expecting to see those West Virginia demographics replicated nationwide, think again.