There were several more polls which came out this week in the wake of Donald Trump’s latest gaffe which was sure to finally doom him. Most of them were covered here, but they all delivered essentially the same news: nothing had changed, except possibly for The Donald expanding his plurality in the GOP primary. (Iowa is still the possible exception.) The lack of changes, however, was only in the poll numbers. By the time the weekend had arrived I was seeing a shift in the coverage and analysis of the race. One of the telling editorials I found was from Matthew Continetti at the Washington Free Beacon.
Most of this is the usual Sky Is Falling, gloom and doom about how Trump will trash the cake at everyone’s party, but this observation in particular caught my eye: (Some emphasis added)
Donald Trump’s candidacy is already intensifying party divisions. Nominating him would alter the character of the Republican Party in a fundamental way.
GOP voters understand this possibility. A majority backs candidates other than Trump. But the huge Republican field splits the anti-Trump vote and gives him double-digit leads in national and state polls. And while it is possible those polls overstate Trump’s support, it’s equally possible that they understate it.
Trump may not even need a majority of traditional Republican voters to win. His unusual candidacy could bring in voters new to the party or even to the political process. Whether Trump wins or loses a general election against Hillary Clinton is less important in this analysis than the effect his nomination would have on the composition and philosophy of the Republican Party. That effect would be profound.
Wait… didn’t the 2012 autopsy conclude that we needed to grow and expand the party? But here we are on the cusp of the next battle and we’ve reached the point where people are saying that bringing new voters to the party or even to the political process would be a bad thing. My, how quickly the worm can turn.
But Continetti’s analysis seems to have both blatant and implied warnings. He walks through some of the seminal moments from the relationship between conservatism and the Republican party, noting the revolutions which took place with nominations of both Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. He seems to see the possibility of an eventual Trump nomination as yet another such defining moment, though decidedly more horrifying than the previous two.
Then there was this tidbit from further down in the article:
Since declaring his candidacy in June, Trump has been consistent on issues of immigration and trade and security. He has not deviated from building a wall on the southern border, slapping tariffs on imports, criticizing the 2003 Iraq war, praising Vladimir Putin, describing Ukraine as Germany’s problem not ours, and saying Middle East peace depends on Israeli concessions.
Trump’s nationalism has far more in common with the conservatism of Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s National Front, than with the conservatism of Ronald Reagan. Support for a “Muslim ban” is par for the course among European nationalists—by calling for it here all Trump has done is confirm how closely American politics resembles European politics. Reagan was an immigration advocate who signed the 1986 amnesty law.
There’s that theme once again… nationalism is bad. If you hear it from a Democrat or the mainstreeam press (but I repeat myself) they prefer the word “tribalism.” Why are so many Republicans meekly accepting the progressive assertion that nationalism is a sin by default? Marine Le Pen certainly has a few ideas that I wouldn’t want to see exported to the United States, but for the most part she’s fighting for the national identity of her country and trying to save their nation’s fundamental values and vision.
This is somehow a sin in 2015?
But what’s being reinforced here is the loosely defined fear that was mentioned at the top of his column. Even if you were to accept that this shift in attitude would be a terrible thing for the party, the shift may be happening nonetheless. Continetti pondered whether or not the herd was leading the shepherds and if Trump’s true numbers might actually be higher than even the polls indicate. He’s not the only one asking the question. Henry Olsen of The Atlantic came out on Saturday with the horrified observation that Trump’s support at the national level may actually be greater than the experts are divining.
Trump is actually just the latest manifestation of a more global trend: Data suggests the appeal of anti-immigrant policies to working-class voters is much deeper than most American elites want to believe. And because Trump draws the bulk of his support from less-educated, working- and middle-class voters, he may be positioned to do even better still—for now. Polling data from Europe shows that parties with similar voter profiles to Trump’s consistently do better in both online polls and at the ballot box than in live-interview polling. And currently Trump is far ahead online.
This analysis swings back to that segment above where we talked about nationalism, tribalism and the unpopular concept of pride in country. Purely anonymous polls done in Europe reveal a far more nationalistic bent than those disclosed in live interviews. It’s a pattern being repeated with Trump’s numbers in America. Perhaps those under the radar polls are just flawed. But then, maybe they’re not. Is the Donald tapping into something which some segment of the population is feeling but not quite ready to talk about in an environment where the media continually assures them they are wrong to feel that way? We won’t know the answer to that one for many more months, but there are few more anonymous places in the land than the ballot booth.
Either way, the conclusion in some quarters seems to be that the GOP is experiencing a rending moment. Trump may have changed the landscape simply by virtue of striding through it. Perhaps the portents were all wrong and he’ll fall off the map when the voting starts. (How that happens I have no idea and I’ve given up guessing.) Maybe he wins but goes on to get slaughtered in the general election. Who knows… maybe he becomes president. But no matter what happens he started a conversation much like the alcohol fueled debate at a Christmas party at the office. You may all go back to work on Monday, but nothing is ever quite the same again afterward. People have been talking and figurative blood has been shed. A significant number of people, mostly filed in the Republican column, have revealed a streak of Howard Beale… unapologetic, mad as hell and not intending to take it anymore. And whether the election is won or lost, the Republican Party will come back from the battle and need to figure out what comes next. Perhaps it’s not “doom” but something has changed.