Never read too much into any one poll, but the lede from Associated Press is nonetheless troubling:
Republican voters view Donald Trump as their strongest general election candidate, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll that highlights the sharp contrast between the party’s voters and its top professionals regarding the billionaire businessman’s ultimate political strength.
But wait, there’s more:
Seven in 10 Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters say Trump could win in November 2016 if he is nominated, and that’s the most who say so of any candidate. By comparison, 6 in 10 say the same for retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who, like Trump, has tapped into the powerful wave of antiestablishment anger defining the early phases of the 2016 contest.
And then there is the reality check: “Trump and Carson are considered among the least electable general election candidates by the Republican Party’s professionals, those who are in the business of helping candidates run campaigns and win elections”, explain Steve Peoples and Emily Swanson, and in truth one need not be a political professional to figure that out. Still, though, how superstitious do we really wish to be?
National Review published a striking glimpse inside the Republican establishment:
It began as whispers in hushed corners: Could it ever happen? And now, just three months from the Iowa caucuses, members of the Republican establishment are starting to give voice to an increasingly common belief that Donald Trump, once dismissed as joke, a carnival barker, and a circus freak, might very well win the nomination.
The question is whether something is different this time. August brought what now seems a familiar murmur; the numbers at the time suggested, “57 percent of Republican voters think Trump is likely to win the nomination”, and, “Among all voters, 49 percent believe Trump will be the Republican candidate for president”. Fast forward to last Friday; Rasmussen Reports released survey numbers in which fifty-seven is the percent among all likely voters, and an astounding “74% of Likely Republican Voters believe Trump is likely to end up as the GOP nominee”. And Politico also managed to pile on some noise:
Eighty-one percent of Republican insiders say the likelihood that Trump becomes their party’s nominee is more today than it was a month ago, and 79 percent of Democrats said the same. That’s according to the POLITICO Caucus, our weekly bipartisan survey of top strategists, operatives and activists in the early-voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.
“I can’t even describe the lunacy of him as our nominee. But reason has not applied to date in this race, and my hopes are fleeting that it will ever surface,” lamented an Iowa Republican, who like all participants was granted anonymity in order to speak freely.
This is not quite so doomsday dramatic as it sounds, but still, there seems to be a reason some are getting nervous. And that was before the AP-GfK numbers this weekend.
But what is striking about those last is that we might wonder by what metric these Republican voters measure electability. As Peoples and Swanson continue in their AP report:
Experienced political strategists note that winning a general election and winning the Republican nomination are often very different tasks. The GOP’s most conservative voters―a group that is older and whiter than the nation as a whole―wield extraordinary influence in picking the nominee. Independents, moderate voters and minorities are far more important in general elections that draw many more people to the polls.
The idea of epistemic closure―the echo chamber, the bubble―comes to mind. Republican operative Katie Packer warned against underestimating Hillary Clinton, and this is significant. Ms. Packer was deputy campaign manager for Mitt Romney in 2012, an operation that was, apparently, somehow “shellshocked” on election night. She seems somewhat qualified to tell the Associated Press a bit about what happens when Republicans stop paying attention to reality.
“Republicans think (Democrat) Hillary (Rodham Clinton) is weaker than she is. They are wrong,” said GOP operative Katie Packer, who was deputy campaign manager for 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney. “They think we don’t need to win more women or more Hispanics to win. They’re wrong.”
Thus, Donald Trump and Ben Carson, and sure, why wouldn’t they be electable? It is one thing to complain, as Joe Selig, a California carpenter, suggests, about “lifelong establishment politicians on both sides that rub me the wrong way”, but it is also rather quite difficult to figure the other part of what he told the AP: “I think Trump is more electable.”
Because we have to remember that nearly seventy-three percent of Republicans apparently would not actually want Mr. Trump as the nominee, just to go with the polling averages. An obvious question, then, with these months still to pass before votes are cast and delegates gather into one or another camp, is whether that majority of the Republican Party can come together around another candidate. Jeb Bush? Marco Rubio? Lindsey Graham?
Except for this weird sense of resignation, a pervasive shadow of inevitability.
It is true that the conventional wisdom, while generally unreliable, is especially so this year. Certes, this is no reason in and of itself to panic, but at the same time the future becomes unknown. Conventional wisdom would generally suggest that Republicans will come to their senses when it is time to vote, and if we accept that particular point to be in transition, unresolved, the heaving sigh from the Republican establishment becomes all the more puzzling. It starts to look as if they would help manufacture a Trumpapalooza, except play Pilate and say they had nothing to do with it, because, after all, this is what the voters wanted, and, really, by what definition is Donald Trump or Ben Carson electable?
But it’s still October, in the year before the election. Not a single vote is cast, and on paper not a single delegate is committed. In Iowa, Mr. Trump is not the frontrunner. Is it really wise, under any convention, to believe the murmur and buzz leading pundits and analysts to wonder if Republicans are preparing some manner of self-inflicted inevitable surrender to inevitability?
It seems impossible: If the Republican presidential marketplace is a proverbial suicide pact, then just how does it work?
They’re not really rolling over.
Image notes: Top ― Detail of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal by Zach Weiner, 12 June 2015. Middle ― Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump, in uncredited photo (n.d.) Bottom ― Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson speaks with Jake Tapper on CNN’s ‘State of the Union’ program, 25 October 2015.
Cohen, Patricia. “‘Epistemic Closure’? Those Are Fighting Words”. The New York Times. 27 April 2010.
Crawford, Jan. “Adviser: Romney ‘shellshocked’ by loss”. CBS News. 8 November 2012.
Easley, Jonathan. “Poll: Carson opens up 14-point lead over Trump in Iowa”. The Hill. 26 October 2015.
Glueck, Katie. “Insiders: Trump nomination looking more likely”. Politico. 23 October 2015.
Johnson, Eliana. “The Establishment Thinks the Unthinkable: Trump Could Win the Nomination”. National Review. 19 October 2015.
Peoples, Steve and Emily Swanson. “AP-GfK Poll: Republicans view Donald Trump as most electable”. Associated Press. 25 October 2015.
Rasmussen Reports. “Trump Change: More GOP Voters Than Ever Say He’s The Man”. 23 October 2015.
Real Clear Politics. “2016 Republican Presidential Nomination”. 18 September 2015.
Richardson, Bradford. “Poll: Most Republicans think Trump will win nomination”. The Hill. 21 August 2015.