NBC poll: Three different Republicans fare better against Hillary than Trump does

Is it worth analyzing polls that are now destined to change after what Jim Comey said this morning? Probably not. But screw it. Let’s do it anyway!

Does anyone believe these numbers? Specifically, does anyone believe that these are the numbers we’d see if Trump were unceremoniously dumped in Cleveland and Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, or John Kasich was nominated instead? NBC asked people who they’d vote for in a match-up between each of them and Hillary Clinton but I think most probably interpreted the question as who they’d vote for in a match-up between each of them and Hillary if each had won the Republican primary fair and square. The fact that the numbers for these alternative nominees are as high as they are even in that scenario is noteworthy because it suggests that there aren’t as many hardcore Trump fans as you might think who would have boycotted the general election had Trump lost. But the fact remains that that’s not the world we’re in now.

They didn’t win the primary fair and square. Trump did. If you want to test how other Republicans would do against Clinton, you’re duty bound, I think, to emphasize in your phrasing of the question the “Dump Trump” mechanism by which it would happen; after all, there’s no way around the fact that a convention coup would alienate some Republican voters by ousting Trump in a way some would view as undemocratic and illicit. (Especially with Trump complaining loudly and often afterward about how rigged the Republican system is.) That’s a number that would be useful to know — how many GOPers who might otherwise vote for a Romney or a Ryan or a Kasich would stay home on principle to protest Trump being overthrown overboard in Cleveland? NBC didn’t ask that, though.

This week’s poll asked how Clinton would do against former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, current House Speaker Paul Ryan and former presidential hopeful John Kasich. In the case of a Romney and Clinton match-up, voters are evenly split [at 45 percent each]. Romney, an outspoken Trump dissenter, has publically denounced the GOP’s nominee in favor of a more presidential candidate…

In a Clinton match-up against Ryan, the race is close, but Clinton is slightly behind. Though the House speaker has repeatedly said he has no interest in a White House bid, if the election were today and he were on the Republican ticket, Ryan would barely edge out the presumptive Democratic nominee by 2 points—47 percent to 45 percent…

Perhaps most surprising are the results of a Clinton vs. Kasich November match-up. Though the Ohio governor was only able to secure enough support during the primaries to win his home state of Ohio, he leads Clinton by 8 points [50/42]—the same margin as Clinton’s lead over Trump last week.

Kasich fares better than Romney or Ryan because he wins more Democrats and more independents — although Romney and Ryan also win indies against Clinton with 52 percent each. As for Trump, he trails 48/43, a few points better than last week (possibly due to his speech on protectionism?) but still weaker than the other three Republican candidates. On the other hand, Kasich’s the only one of the three who seems considerably stronger than Trump despite Trump’s many missteps over the past month, and it’d be bizarre to depose Trump in Cleveland for a guy whom he thrashed in state after state in the primaries. If you replaced Trump with Romney or Ryan, you could at least argue that we don’t know for sure that Republican primary voters would have preferred Trump to them. With Kasich, there’s no doubt.

Hillary also leads Trump by five points in another national poll released this weekend, a USA Today/Suffolk survey that has the race 45.6/40.4. Six of the last 11 polls taken nationally have her leading by four to six points, which puts NBC and USA Today right in line with what other pollsters are seeing. This bit from the USA Today data may help explain why the numbers for Romney, Ryan, and Kasich in the NBC survey are higher than expected:

Clinton commands more positive allegiance than Trump. By more than 3-1, 74% to 22%, Clinton supporters say they are mostly voting for her, not against him. Trump’s backers are more evenly divided on their motivation: 48% are mostly voting for him; 39% are mostly voting against her.

There’s a considerably higher number of Republicans who are voting against the Democrat than there are Democrats who are voting against the Republican. In fact, that’s the main pitch from Trump fans to Trump skeptics on the right: However bad you may think he is, he’s surely better than Hillary. If Republicans are destined to run this race on an “Anyone but Hillary” platform, then it doesn’t matter as much who their nominee is. No wonder, then, that Romney, Ryan, and Kasich are all competitive with her. And no wonder, perhaps, that Kasich fares best since he’s the least well known and most generic of the three. Democrats and independents know who Romney and Ryan are from the 2012 race; Kasich is whoever voters imagine him to be. Right-wing antipathy to Clinton would have been rocket fuel for any Republican nominee this year, but whether it’s enough to keep angry Trump fans inside the tent if he’s ousted in Cleveland, though — even though Trump fans themselves are the main advocates of the “Anybody but Hillary” argument — I don’t know.