He seems pretty excited about it too.
A new poll indicates that 68% of my supporters would vote for me if I departed the GOP & ran as an independent. https://t.co/ztP5d2ctZl
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 8, 2015
The topline numbers: Trump 27, Cruz 17, Rubio 16, and a fading Ben Carson, who’s now apparently canceling ad buys, in fourth at 10 percent. The conventional wisdom since around November 1st has been that the primaries will come down to Rubio and Cruz and maybe Trump. Sure seems like that’s where we’re headed.
in a chilling sign for Republicans, 68% of Trump’s supporters say they would vote for the blustery billionaire businessman if he ran as an independent rather than a Republican; just 18% say they wouldn’t. The rest were undecided…
In the Republican contest, Cruz and Rubio, now at 17% and 16%, have surged from the single-digit support they had in the fall. Carson’s support has dipped by 3 points, to 10%. Former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, in a freefall, has lost 12 of the 13 points she held in September. Support for former Florida governor Jeb Bush has been cut in half, to 8% from 4%…
In the new national poll’s hypothetical matchups for November, Clinton leads Trump 48%-44%. She edges Cruz by 47%-45% and Carson by 46%-45%. Rubio leads Clinton 48%-45%.
Trump’s favorable rating among national likely voters in this poll, which was taken before he called for a ban on Muslims, is a breezy 30/60, so you’ll definitely want to bet your vote on him in a general election.
If all 68 percent of those “Trump or bust” likely Republican voters are telling the truth about sticking with him if he runs third-party, we’re looking at something like 17-20 percent of the total vote next November going to Trump, way more than enough to wreck the GOP’s chances. Even if half of them end up deciding to either stay home or vote for the Republican nominee in the interest of beating Hillary, that’s still upwards of 10 percent breaking away. There are X factors, though. One X factor is Trump’s dynamism on the stump. If he campaigned aggressively as a third-party nominee, with the sort of frequent big rallies he’s doing now, the contrast with Hillary’s “low energy” campaign and whatever the GOP nominee is doing might drive extra votes to him. I wouldn’t put it past him to get 25 percent, especially if he finally opens his wallet to buy ads and build a national organization. But that’ll be countered by another X factor: It’s hard to predict how much free airtime the media will continue to give him during a general election. Letting him on the air to ramble for half an hour about barring Muslims is a perfectly sensible thing for MSNBC to do right now, when the GOP is at each other’s throats. The more he talks, the more divided their enemy is. If he went third-party, they’d have to think more carefully. I assume they’d double down early in the general election campaign by giving him a blank check to talk on the air about whatever he likes, hoping to drive attention away from the GOP nominee and towards Trump in the name of splitting the vote. If he really took off, though, and began to threaten Hillary, they’d cut him off.
There are practical considerations too. Could Trump get on the ballot in all 50 states at this point, even if a court ruled that “sore loser” laws can’t apply to presidential elections? And if he’s going to launch a third-party campaign, when exactly does he expect to do that? He’s basically tied for the lead in Iowa and still reliably ahead in New Hampshire. If he’s going to fade in either state, he probably won’t do so until the final days before the vote, meaning that it’ll be mid-February at the earliest before he starts thinking seriously about bolting the party. And if he’s bolting at that point, he’ll be doing so as a wounded man, having already lost a primary or two and suddenly scrambling to explain why he’d fare better as a third-party candidate. I can’t imagine Trump slogging through another nine months of campaigning after having already been rejected by Republican voters who kept him on top of the polls for months and months, only to abandon him on election night. Which means, if he’s going third-party, it would have to happen soon, while his polls are still strong so that he can sell the move as a true gesture of strength and independence rather than a lame “I can’t beat Cruz and/or Rubio with Republican voters” fallback plan. And there’s no reason for him to do that given how competitive he is at the moment in the Republican primaries. Essentially, there’s no good time anymore for Trump to run as an indie. The window is closed except as a weak threat he can use whenever he feels that the party isn’t “being nice” to him or whatever.
But the media, which longs for a divided Republican Party, can still dream. If Trump won’t quit the GOP, why don’t they fire him?
It is heartening that Mr. Trump’s opponents are finally condemning him in terms they would generally reserve for Democrats, but it also raises a critical question: If the GOP front-runner’s pronouncements are as lunatic and offensive as his rivals say — and they are — isn’t it incumbent on them to make clear they would oppose him if he were the party’s nominee?…
As Mr. Trump’s fellow Republican candidates now acknowledge, there is a real-world cost to a campaign that gains traction by spewing hatred, bigotry and rage. Criticizing Mr. Trump is no longer sufficient. It is time to say clearly he is anathema to the Republican Party, and to the nation.
What better way to gear up for a nomination battle than by excommunicating 25-30 percent of the people interested in your primary?
I’m sanguine about the idea of Trump going third-party, though. Some of that is garden-variety eeyorism, my feeling that Hillary’s probably going to win regardless, so what does it matter if it’s 52/48 or 43/36/20? Some of it is my suspicion that there’s already a chunk of voters on each side of the pro-Trump/anti-Trump divide who are at or near the point of resolving that they’re staying home next year if they don’t get their way in the primaries, whatever that may mean for Hillary winning. Trump fans think the GOP establishment is no longer any better than the Democratic Party and isn’t fit to lead. Trump critics think he’s flirting with fascism and can’t in good conscience be supported. Maybe Ted Cruz could bridge those two sides, but increasingly I think no one else can and that whichever chunk of voters ends up staying home will be enough to cost the GOP the election, albeit in a close race.
And partly I think it’s okay for Trump to run as an independent because, in the end, it’s truer to who he is. He really does represent a sort of new party, a coalition of blue-collars and Jacksonians that’s more like the European right than the American conservative movement. They’re not that focused on shrinking government, especially when it comes to their own entitlements, and they’re not that invested in social conservatism. They worry a lot about cultural change, especially from Muslims and Latinos, and are willing to tolerate things like a ban on Muslim visitors in the interest of retarding that change that a libertarian wouldn’t. They’re not dogmatic about free markets; they’ll accept protectionism in the name of creating jobs and are eager to limit competition with foreign workers. Many of those things are true of conservatives too but not to the same extent, mainly, I think, because many traditional conservatives have libertarian sympathies. Trump’s essentially anti-libertarian. Having him go his own way would clarify that disagreement. But as I say, I don’t think it’ll happen.