The dust is still settling from Thursday night’s rowdy debate, but if it’s having any effect on the frontrunner thus far, Reuters’ five day rolling sample isn’t finding it. And as the numbers continue to stack up with only three days to go until the big event on Tuesday, the sense of panic among the establishment is spreading.
U.S. Republicans in Washington are coming to grips with what many of them not long ago considered an unimaginable reality: Donald Trump is likely to be their presidential nominee and standard-bearer.
The prospect of Trump winning the Republican primary had been the stuff of Washington jokes, whispered hallway conversations and eye-rolls, even as he led in public opinion polls for months and dominated debate after debate.
But with the brash billionaire now winning three straight contests in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada, denial is giving way to a mostly gloomy acceptance that he may have too much momentum to be stopped, especially if wins big in key Southern primaries next week that look favorable to him.
When we’re dealing with this many states going to the polls at one time the national trends begin to take on a bit more significance than the state level samples. (Though still less predictive in my experience.) So just how “favorable” are the tea leaves for Trump at this point? The running Reuters survey I mentioned above shows a different picture of the presumed three person race than some in the ABT (Anyone But Trump) camp were forecasting, assuming the numbers hold up.
That particular bracket runs back to February 3rd when the actually voting was only just getting underway and there are a couple of notable shifts to be observed. First of all, 24 days ago the combined Rubio and Cruz vote (which added up to 53%) dwarfed Trump’s 36 points. This was the assumption which everyone had been working under – that Trump’s “ceiling” was roughly one third of the vote and the ABT vote could easily dispatch him. Today the Cruz – Rubio total is 46.6 and Trump is sitting 1.3% away from a national majority. The other, less discussed point of interest is at the bottom of their graph. A little more than three weeks ago we saw ten percent saying they wouldn’t even bother voting for anyone with the field in that condition. That number has now dropped to less than half of that.
As a bit of supplemental reading, check out Jonathan Martin’s piece from this morning detailing some of the previous ABT attempts to derail Trump and how they failed to ever come to fruition. Some of the big money in the game was being courted months ago, but they took a pass.
Late last fall, the strategists Alex Castellanos and Gail Gitcho, both presidential campaign veterans, reached out to dozens of the party’s leading donors, including the casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and the hedge-fund manager Paul Singer, with a plan to create a “super PAC” that would take down Mr. Trump. In a confidential memo, the strategists laid out the mission of a group they called “ProtectUS.”…
The two strategists, who declined to comment, proposed to attack Mr. Trump in New Hampshire over his business failures and past liberal positions, and emphasized the extreme urgency of their project. A Trump nomination would not only cause Republicans to lose the presidency, they wrote, “but we also lose the Senate, competitive gubernatorial elections and moderate House Republicans.”
No major donors committed to the project, and it was abandoned. No other sustained Stop Trump effort sprang up in its place.
We can keep talking about delegate math all we want here (and I’m sure we will) but there’s one uncomfortable fact to be dealt with sooner or later. If Trump hits and sustains 50% in the polls by the middle of March you may as well stick a fork in it and start signing on with the folks talking about dragging Rick Perry or Mitt Romney back into the fight as a doomed 3rd party candidate. Donald Trump may still fall, but the odds are shrinking to long shot levels and if he does it’s going to have to be a spectacular crash and burn at this point.