The ooh-aah number being seized on from this ABC/WaPo poll isn’t the topline figure (Trump leads Carson, 32/22) but the percentage of Republicans who think he’ll be the nominee. That stands at 42 percent for Trump versus just 15 percent for Carson and 12 percent for Jeb Bush. That’s … interesting, but I’m not sure how much it tells us. Go figure that a guy who was already nationally famous for decades, who’s led nearly every poll for four months and who’s utterly consumed political media, now seems to a lot of people like a decent bet to win the nomination. The value of that figure, I suppose, is that it shows a strong plurality of Republican voters don’t view Trump’s candidacy as a stunt; they see him increasingly as a plausible nominee, which was one of his biggest hurdles when he first got in the race. Would anyone waste a ballot on him when it finally came to vote? Answer: Sure, now that it seems like a vote for him wouldn’t actually be a waste. On the other hand, if you’re a Trump naysayer, you can take comfort in the fact that he’s still in the low 40s on this metric. Despite dominating the race in every conceivable way since the beginning of summer, this guy yet hasn’t convinced a clear majority of Republicans that he’s the likely nominee? Evidently a lot of GOPers out there still think Trumpmania is a passing fad. I wonder what the number will look like if his lead is still steady around, say, Thanksgiving.
I think these numbers, testing how voters perceive the candidates on various presidential measurements (strongest leader, most honest, best chance of winning the general election, etc), are more significant. If you want to know why Trump is leading, this is why.
He always leads the pack on immigration whenever these issue arrays are featured in polls but I don’t think I’ve seen one yet where immigration represented his most decisive advantage. Here it’s strong leadership where he notches his strongest numbers. Another issue array from today’s Bloomberg poll of New Hampshire, in which Trump leads Carson 24/17, shows similarly strong numbers on authenticity and strength in dealing with Putin:
Too bad they didn’t ask about the economy. Typically that’s Trump’s strongest suit of all when discrete issues are polled, but you can see here from the available data how important his alpha male persona is to his appeal. Strikingly, New Hampshire Republicans are under no illusions about his conservatism: He finishes fourth in that measurement, 16 points behind Ted Cruz. But voters don’t care. What they want, even above ideological fidelity, is strength and candor. That’s the essence of the “outsider’s” appeal.
In fact, these numbers make a nice frame for Byron York’s piece today. Trump’s opponents are reportedly preparing an ad barrage designed to show Republican voters just how little conservatism matters to him. But … what if conservatism doesn’t much matter to them, either?
The problem is that an ad accusing Trump of not being a conservative will appeal almost exclusively to GOP voters who are strongly conservative. But those voters are mostly already supporting other candidates. Trump’s base of support lies elsewhere, and might end up largely unaffected by a he’s-not-one-of-us ad campaign.
The short version of the problem could be this: An attack ad says Trump is not a conservative. Trump supporters — and other possible GOP voters, as well — say, that’s OK, we’re not conservatives, either.
Leon Wolf made a similar point today at Red State: Is there anything Trump could say or do that would significantly damage his support among his fans? Is he capable of any betrayal of conservatism so grand that even otherwise diehard Trump supporters would say “here’s where I get off”? I think there are a select few — going all in on gun control, for instance, professing himself an agnostic, etc — but none of those are things he might realistically do. For all the hype about Trump’s brash honesty, he knows there are a few litmus tests that would cause problems even for him if he failed them. (That’s why he’s willing to blithely reassure social conservatives that “The Art of the Deal” is only the second-greatest book ever written.) But this feels more transactional than a true deception. What Trump’s doing when he defends gun rights, despite his prior heresies on the subject, isn’t so much acknowledging that he’s learned an important lesson on policy as it is him signaling to Republicans that he won’t try to screw them on that issue if they vote for him. Which brings us back to York’s point, that few people in his base are under any illusions about how conservative he is. They know he isn’t. They just don’t care.
And if that’s true, then tell me, Ted Cruz fans: What’s left of the theory that Trump voters will in due course become reliable Cruz voters?
Here’s the man himself telling Hannity last night (at 8:45 of the clip) that he’d certainly support a good man like Jeb Bush as nominee. I don’t buy that, partly because the feud between them seems too personal and partly because *I* wouldn’t support a dynast like Jeb as nominee, but this is another example of Trump being willing to swallow a little candor in the name of sidestepping a political problem. He swore a pledge of allegiance to the party’s nominee a few months ago in order to reassure Republicans who were iffy about him that he’s a true blue GOPer, so now he’s keeping his pledge. I wonder how many Trump fans would grudgingly support Bush if he somehow managed to stop their guy in New Hampshire.