It has now been nine months since Donald Trump announced his candidacy for president. Given his bizarre behavior over that time frame, his clear inadequacy as a potential president and the looming electoral disaster that his nomination would produce, you would think that Republican-leaning voters would have begun to wise up by now.
You — and by “you”, I of course mean me — would be wrong.
In the latest CNN poll, 47 percent of GOP-inclined voters now say that they prefer Trump as their party nominee. While that still falls a bit short of a majority, it reflects a rise of 21 points just since late November. Apparently, while people like me have been appalled by Trump’s antics, those same antics have convinced a lot more Republicans that he’s the man for them. Almost two-thirds of Republicans now say they would be either enthusiastic or satisfied if Trump wins their party’s nomination.
And while that same poll shows anti-Trump Republicans belatedly coalescing around Ted Cruz — support for the Texas senator has more than doubled in a month’s time — Cruz still lingers back at 31 percent, a 16-point chasm that will be almost impossible to close this late in the game. Winning Utah is nice, but there’s only one Utah on the map.
Frightened by what they’re witnessing, a lot of establishment Republicans have attempted to blame Trump’s popularity on the wall-to-wall media coverage that he has received, and there’s no denying that Trump has gotten far more air time than any other candidate. However, among a rational electorate, extensive coverage of such a clownish, immature candidate should have driven his popularity down, not up. Trump is hardly a secret at this point; nobody who votes for him can plausibly claim that nobody told them about his blithe ignorance of the issues, his crass arrogance, his reliance on bigotry and racial resentment, his authoritarian and even fascistic tendencies.
It’s all out there at this point, and roughly half of the GOP electorate appears to embrace it. That’s on them, not on the media.
The polls also give us a way to gauge the potential impact of the Trump phenomenon on the November elections. According to the CNN poll, for example, 91 percent of GOP-leaning voters acknowledge that their party is divided, and 46 percent expect that divide to last through November. More than a third say that if Trump wins the nomination, they want to see another Republican launch a third-party effort.
Jonah Goldberg captures the dilemma succinctly:
“Nominating Donald Trump will wreck the Republican Party as we know it. Not nominating Trump will wreck the Republican Party as we know it.”
That description of a deeply, perhaps fatally troubled party is confirmed by the results of another poll released this week, this one from CBS/New York Times:
As you can see, the Democratic Party isn’t exactly charming the pants off the American people, but as in the old joke about outrunning the bear, it doesn’t matter. It merely has to be more popular than their opponents, and the Republicans’ already high unfavorable rating has risen another seven points since October.
The poll also asked voters their response to a potential Trump presidency. Would that make them excited, optimistic, concerned or downright scared? Fifty percent of voters and 48 percent of independents said that the prospect of a Trump presidency frightens them, and frightened voters will turn out against the cause of that fear.
The corresponding figure for Hillary Clinton was 35 percent, which is also high. (See Bear, necessity of outrunning). Of the four top candidates for president, the one who is judged least scary by the American people turns out to be Bernie Sanders (27 percent), an avowed socialist.
Now what does that tell you?