Will Hillary Clinton “obliterate” Donald Trump in a general election? That’s the question Ted Cruz poses as the Indiana primary on Tuesday looms large on both the calendar and the fate of the Republican Party presidential nomination. The Hoosier State contest is a must-win for Cruz and Carly Fiorina, and Cruz told Hugh Hewitt this morning that it’s also an opportunity for a reality check for Team Trump and his supporters. If the GOP nominates Trump, Cruz argues, Republicans should prepare themselves for a wipeout:
HH: Senator, Ross Douthat in the New York Times wrote a very interesting column, I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to see it yesterday, but he points out 300 million Americans, 125 million will vote Donald Trump is one of about 10 million votes, I’m not sure what your vote total is, he’s won more votes than you. Nevertheless, Douthat argues that in this primary electorate, the Trump support seems unwilling to accept evidence that Donald Trump will not win in the fall, that they reject that evidence as bias, that he will put New York and Michigan into play and in fact, Corey Lewandowski yesterday said he would win Massachusetts, others say Pennsylvania. What do you make about those arguments and what do you make about Douthat’s assumption regarding their unwillingness to deal with what the media puts out as facts?
TC: I didn’t read that particular column, but I can tell you on the merits that the Trump campaign operates in a fact-free environment. They are utterly divorced from reality. The numbers are clear, if Trump is the nominee, Hillary wins and she wins by double-digits. He gets obliterated. Donald Trump right now is losing the state of Utah. Utah as you know, may well be the reddest state in the Union. If a Republican cannot carry the most conservative state in the Union, we’re looking at a “Walter-Mondale” that will blow out. I will note in contrast, that if I’m the nominee, we win. We carry key swing states, we carry independents, right now I’m beating Hillary Clinton with young people by double-digits, but let me tell you the even more broad point of even just electability–it is stunning how many issues Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton agree on. If you’re a social conservative, it should bother you that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton both agree on taxpayer-funding for Planned Parenthood and both of them think Planned Parenthood is wonderful, that’s their word. It should bother you that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton both agreed with Bill Clinton on banning many of the most popular firearms in America. As the president, I’m going to defend the 2nd amendment, not seek to ban guns.
The Utah poll to which Cruz refers came out in mid-March, and showed Hillary Clinton up 38/36 over Trump. It’s the only poll in the RCP aggregation for a head-to-head general election matchup, and it took place in the context of a heated primary. Cruz might do better to use Arizona as an example, where a recent poll showed Hillary up seven points over Trump 42/35 three weeks after their primary, which was won by Trump. That same poll put Cruz up over Hillary 43/38 and John Kasich with a double-digit 44/32 advantage as of two weeks ago. In fact, both Cruz and Kasich do better against Hillary with independents, women, and even Democrats in Arizona than does Trump:
Since 1948, Arizona has only gone to Democrats once — in 1996’s Bill Clinton re-election, and Clinton only won 46.5% of the vote in a three-way race. If Arizona’s really in play, then the GOP is in deep, deep trouble.
Still, it’s a bit early to rely entirely on head-to-head polling, and Cruz may be making the wrong appeal to voters in this cycle anyway. As I wrote yesterday in my column for The Fiscal Times, Trump’s gaining a greater and greater share of the Republican primary vote and polling, and it’s not due to electability as much as it is aggression:
Even if Cruz and Kasich manage to lock out Trump from any significant delegate allocation, there is little doubt that the real-estate magnate is pulling together more of the party behind him. The argument that Trump only represented a minority slice of the GOP has become tougher and tougher to make. As much as Cruz has out-hustled Trump in delegate selection, it looks likely that Trump will finish with just enough delegates to win – or close enough that the groundswell of popular support for him will sway enough of the unbound delegates to conclude the matter on the first ballot.
All Trump needs to do is to focus outward on a shared opponent to keep that momentum going – which is exactly what he did on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. He shifted the focus of his blunt and personal attacks to Hillary Clinton, who also won big on Tuesday night, ridiculing her reliance on the “woman card” in both his victory speech and on Good Morning America the next morning. “If she was a man,” Trump said, “she’d get five percent.”
That kind of attack will be music to the ears of Republicans who blame Mitt Romney for [not] going on the attack against Barack Obama – even if that conclusion about the loss in 2012 is entirely wrong. They would be delighted to imagine that kind of attack in the presidential debates this fall, with Trump pulling out all stops to derail Hillary Clinton. That promise will certainly play on the minds of unbound delegates when the first ballot gets called in Cleveland. …
Whether or not that’s realistic – or would be effective with voters in swing states Republicans need to win – is almost beside the point. More and more Republicans are picking Trump in large part because of his outrageous attacks, not despite them.
While Cruz makes the best argument he can, it may not just be Team Trump that’s “divorced from reality.”