For months now, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has been forthright about Donald Trump and his impact on the Republican Party, this week urging conservative voters to “tell Donald Trump to go to hell”.
“He’s a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot. He doesn’t represent my party, and he doesn’t represent the values that our men and women in uniform are fighting for,” Graham told CNN, arguing that Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric is empowering ISIS, making it easier for them to draw recruits and putting our own troops at much greater risk.
I agree with much of what Graham says, and I’m glad he’s out there saying it. But here’s the thing:
In a new poll of likely Republican voters taken by Fox News, the “race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot” leads with 35 percent of the vote, 20 percentage points higher than anybody else in the race. And those aren’t national numbers; they’re from South Carolina, Graham’s own state. A total of 48 percent of South Carolina Republicans list Trump as their first or second choice as nominee, and 42 percent embrace Trump as the Republican most likely to defeat the Democrats in November.
Graham, on the other hand, gets a whopping 2 percent of the vote from his fellow Palmetto State Republicans. So if it’s a question of who has the better understanding of the GOP electorate, I think we have our answer.
A new national Bloomberg poll, taken in the wake of Trump’s proposal, confirms that unhappy conclusion.
In short, the statement that many establishment Republicans believed would finally disqualify Trump as a serious candidate has instead been embraced by two-thirds of the party base. Digging deeper into the Bloomberg data, a majority of 51 percent of Republicans said they “strongly favor” the proposal banning all Muslim immigration, if only “temporarily.”¹
In fact, 37 percent of GOP voters say that after hearing the proposal, they are now more likely to vote for Trump; just 16 percent say it makes them less likely. And that show of support creates an interesting dynamic in next Tuesday’s GOP debate in Las Vegas.
So far, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina and John Kasich have joined Graham in strongly condemning Trump’s proposal, and again, that’s to be applauded. The problem is that among the five of them, they account for a combined 10 percent of the GOP electorate. They have neither the standing nor the heft to make their criticism stick. Nobody is going to listen to them, and the more strongly they condemn Trump, the more popular they are likely to make him.
Marco Rubio and Ben Carson, each with 13.6 percent of the national vote, are the only GOP candidates with any real traction to have challenged Trump’s proposal, although they’ve done so in less strident terms. It will be interesting to see how courageous they are next week in confronting Trump and in trying to appeal to what Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.”
At the moment, those angels aren’t much in evidence.
¹You know, “until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on,” as Trump puts it, which sounds pretty permanent to me.