When the polls favor Donald Trump, he and his media surrogates never hesitate to highlight them. When they cut against their preferred narrative, they suddenly become “manipulated.” In this, the Trump campaign sounds like … well, pretty much every presidential campaign, and not just in this cycle. Remember Marco Rubio’s insistence that the polling in Florida had missed a late wave of momentum that would lift him to victory? Good times, good times. Bernie Sanders engaged in plenty of poll denial early on, but he’s having to do a lot less of it these days.
This example from Michael Cohen isn’t terribly different, and neither is the sleight-of-hand use of anecdotal examples as a rebuttal to broader data. It’s mostly notable for the vehemence Cohen employs in denial (via RedState’s Brandon Morse):
“I’m gonna be honest with you, I don’t agree with any of those polls, and any of those numbers.” said Cohen. “Um…the media, the liberal media comes after Mr. Trump on everything.”
“That’s not the liberal media. That’s just a poll.” CNN anchor, Erin Burnett, reminded him.
“You know what? The poll is, as far as I’m concerned, manipulated.” said Cohen.
This apparently comes in reaction to the Washington Post/ABC News poll of Maryland, which Trump actually leads in the GOP primary. It’s similar to the reaction about the Emerson poll of New York in mid-March, which the Trump campaign publicized for its 50-point lead over Cruz in the primary. When people began pointing out that the same exact poll showed Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders crushing Trump head-to-head and the GOP frontrunner doing no better than Mitt Romney did four years ago, suddenly the polling became inaccurate.
Cohen argues that this poll can’t possibly be accurate because they’re getting calls to volunteer, seeing women and minorities attend rallies and speak on Trump’s behalf, and so on. That, however, is an apples-to-oranges comparison, albeit one also routinely deployed by other campaigns in similar situations. None of these polls suggest that no women or Latinos support Trump, but that the vast majority in both demographics will oppose him. Anecdotes don’t cancel data, although to be fair one poll hardly establishes a baseline for analysis, either. The problem for Team Trump is that this isn’t the only poll showing these vulnerabilities in a general election context — it’s a near consensus among all polling.
On top of those vulnerabilities, voters and delegates have to consider Trump’s debacle in Wisconsin, too. Ted Cruz described his big win from 10 points down three weeks before the primary to a 13-point triumph as “a turning point” in the election. In my column today at The Fiscal Times, I argue that’s only true if people paid attention to what led to it — and what followed from Trump himself:
What happened to Trump in those two weeks? He repeatedly shot himself in the foot with intemperate remarks and strange arguments. He attacked Scott Walker for not cooperating with Democrats to raise taxes and spending in an attempt to winRepublican votes. He then fumbled an abortion question in a manner not seen sinceTodd Akin, saying he would punish women who had an abortion, prompting pro-life groups around the country to denounce Trump. He ended up retreating from both, an unusual occurrence for Trump and one that at least implicitly acknowledged serious errors.
Exit polling showed just how damaging those errors turned out to be. Cruz not only edged Trump among independents (40/39), but also defeated Trump by 22 points (54/32) among self-identified Republican voters in Wisconsin’s open primary. Cruz won both men and women by double digits, and won every education demographic. Trump’s big advantage among white working-class voters evaporated, with Cruz winning every income demo. Among evangelical Christians, where Trump had been competitive until his abortion fumble, Cruz won 53 percent — and Trump only got 34 percent.
It only took two weeks for Trump to demolish what looked like a lock in Wisconsin. His campaign spent weeks in Wisconsin, and yet did nothing to learn what voters there think or what they want in a nominee. Trump’s fortnight was a disaster of his own making, and a glimpse of the high risk a Trump general election candidacy would provide the GOP.
That risk might be tolerable if Trump gave an indication that he recognized the problem. In his statement after the loss, however, Trump instead railed about having to endure an “onslaught” of negative advertising and hostile media. Just what does Trump expect to find in the general election if he wins the nomination? If Trump folds only because of negative advertising and hostile media, that alone should have unbound delegates thinking twice about a Trump nomination, especially with Hillary Clinton and a mainstream media already hostile to Republicans waiting after the conventions.
Trump had an opening to consolidate the voters from former opponents in Wisconsin. Instead, he never attracted anyone outside of his core base of support and let Cruz bring in most of the rest under his umbrella. That’s exactly the risk these polls show in a general election, too. Wisconsin showed one candidate capable of attracting previously attached voters to his ranks, and it wasn’t Trump. The consistently bad internals of Trump among the general electorate shows that status is highly unlikely to change.