Now that Donald Trump is the Republican party’s presumptive nominee, there is pressure on conservatives to support him. The people have rendered their verdict, and elitist Republicans should respect the will of the voters, or so goes the much-repeated refrain. But have the people really spoken? Trump is hardly the consensus candidate of the Republican everyman. In fact, his victory is as much a product of elitism as anything: Cable and broadcast news showered unprecedented coverage on him, and the insider-friendly rules of the GOP nomination process turned a mere plurality of votes into an overwhelming share of the delegates.
Watching Trump rallies on cable television, with thousands of diehard fans cheering lustily at the rantings of their hero, it’s easy to conclude he is a tribune for the average American’s grievances. His legion of aggressive Twitter minions reinforces the impression that his campaign truly is a populist revolt. However, this mistakes intensity of devotion for breadth of support: Trump voters may be loyal, but they are not particularly numerous.
In fact, Trump has won 41 percent of the primary votes cast to date. His share of the total primary vote will increase now that he is unopposed, but most—if not all—previous GOP nominees won a larger share than Trump is likely to achieve.