If Hollywood wrote the script, and even if Kevin Spacey played the lead, no one would buy it. One of the more “establishment” Republicans — the party’s previous presidential nominee — got up last week to denounce the man who has captured the imagination of anti-establishment voters in an effort to derail his candidacy. Did Mitt Romney’s speech have any impact on voter decisions? Indeed it did, according to Morning Consult — it made Donald Trump’s voters more likely to continue supporting him:
Thirty-one percent of GOP voters said they were more likely to vote for Trump, while 20 percent said less likely, and 43 percent said it had no impact either way.
The poll, which was conducted March 4 through March 6, also finds that only five percent of Trump supporters said they are now less likely to vote for Trump. And, of those who voted for Romney in 2012, 30 percent said they were more likely to vote for Trump, compared to 20 percent who said less likely. Nearly half (48 percent) said it wouldn’t affect their vote either way.
The results are about what one should have expected. Mitt Romney is well liked within Republican circles, but he’s not beloved — and the voters backing Trump have particular disdain for the way he lost what they saw as a winnable election. Both Trump and Romney have similar favorability numbers with Republican voters overall, 55/42 and 51/41, and among the general population, 35/61 and 35/51 respectively in both cases. That’s hardly a perch from which Romney can make moral judgments that will stick with voters, even his own; 48% of Romney’s voters in 2012 didn’t get moved at all by his speech, while 30% said it would make them more likely to vote for Trump. Only 20% got moved away from Trump.
Romney’s speech was even less effective among Trump supporters, as one would imagine. Telling those voters that they’re marks in an elaborate con by a circus act didn’t exactly endear Romney to these voters. A majority of Trump voters (56%) told Morning Consult that Romney’s speech made them more likely to vote for Trump, while only 5% said it made them less likely to do so. In fact, the biggest intended impact Romney’s speech had was on voters outside of the GOP. Overall, including non-GOP and non-Trump voters, 25% of respondents were less likely to support Trump on the basis of Romney’s denunciation, while 21% were more likely — but even among the whole sample, 48% didn’t feel any impact from his speech at all.
The problem with Romney’s speech, and with the #NeverTrump movement in general, is that it doesn’t stand for something — only against Trump. Each of these denunciations without any endorsement of other options looks suspect, especially (but not limited) to voters who distrust the “establishment.” In some ways, this looks similar to the campaign Romney and the GOP ran against Barack Obama in 2012, with an argument based entirely on the negatives of Obama while offering very little reason to vote for Romney and Republicans.
Want to move the needle on Trump? Offer an alternative that addresses the anger and frustration that Trump is leveraging and perhaps stoking. Endorse a candidate rather than denounce another. Offer a vision along with a choice, one defined not by negatives but by positives. Otherwise, this looks like an exercise in reaping sour grapes, planted in large part in 2008 and 2012.