Memo to the GOP elite: “This is not the poll that you were looking for.”
Instead, the poll released this morning by CNN is likely to send the likes of Reince Priebus, Karl Rove and Mitch McConnell cowering under their desks or reaching for a whiskey bottle.
Among other things, it documents the continued and expected decline of Ben Carson, a candidate whose lack of seriousness has become so obvious that it can no longer be overlooked. That’s not the problem. The problem is that as Carson declines, look who benefits:
It is now December. Donald Trump has proved far from a passing summer fancy, and in fact has led in every poll conducted since July. As voting season comes closer, his lead among GOP voters is growing, not shrinking. At 36 percent, CNN tells us, he now enjoys a remarkable 20-point margin over his second-place challenger. And that challenger is a man by the name of Ted Cruz, who happens to be GOP establishment’s second most-feared candidate.
And Jeb Bush, the well-funded, well-organized champion of the party regulars? He has dropped like an autumn leaf fluttering to the ground and now sits at 3 percent, among the likes of Carly Fiorina and Mike Huckabee. Bush aides keep pointing to John McCain’s 2008 comeback as a model for his campaign, but at this point they’d be better off trying to cite Lazarus.
And did I mention that this is December already? The Iowa caucuses are scheduled for Feb. 1, less than two months away, with New Hampshire a week after that. Between now and then we have the Christmas holiday season, when public attention turns away from the blood sport of politics and the campaign goes into hibernation of sorts. If Trump is going to falter, or if someone is going to strike a fatal blow against him, the time frame in which that can occur is shrinking quickly.
Two other points to consider:
1.) A lot of Trump’s appeal is based on his reputation as a winner. People like winners. They like to be associated with winners. The more winning he does, the more winning he is likely to do in the future. And that’s not just true of voters. It may be even more true of GOP media, donors, political figures and politicians who get nervous when they see a big parade marching by and they’re not part of it. In other words, we’re at the point when the potential bandwagon effect could be enormous.
2.) Republican party professionals still do not believe Trump could possibly win in November. Democratic party professionals don’t believe so either, and are probably looking at these and other poll results and thinking that Santa came early this year. In fact, Trump’s inability to win when it will really count is potentially the best argument that his GOP opponents can muster against him.
Among Republican primary voters, 52 percent now believe that Trump is their party’s best chance to defeat the Democrats in 2016. Rubio is second at a mere 15 percent, 37 percentage points behind the Donald. Electability is not a weapon to be used against Trump; among the base, it may even be his greatest strength at this point. That probably scares the GOP elite more than the horse race numbers, because it confirms that they live in a political world very different from those whom they presume to lead and manage.
Damndest thing I ever saw.