The parlor game for 2016 campaign observers is based on a straightforward question: “If Donald Trump’s support is eventually going to fall, what will be the cause?”
The “if” poses its own challenge, but even if we accept the premise, it’s not unreasonable to wonder what will cause Trump’s lead in the polls to evaporate. Some Republicans assume this is a fleeting fad that cannot be sustained . Others believe the GOP’s primary contest won’t really begin in earnest until after the debates begin and TV ads start airing, making Trump’s early surge irrelevant. Still others assume the former reality-show host will eventually say something so outrageous that he’ll effectively commit political suicide.
But the point that brings comfort to many in the political establishment is the issue of electability – Trump would face extremely long odds as a general-election candidate, and Republican primary voters, desperate for a win, will start thinking strategically in 2016.
Or will they? As Rachel noted on the show last night, the latest NBC News/Marist poll asked Republicans in Iowa and New Hampshire for their 2016 preferences, but they also asked a question that was arguably more interesting:
“Which is more important to you: a Republican nominee for president who shares your position on most issues, or a Republican nominee for president who has the best chance of winning the White House?”
The results weren’t even close. In New Hampshire, 67% of GOP voters want a candidate they agree with, while only 29% are principally concerned with electability. In Iowa, the results were practically identical.
This isn’t about Trump, per se. This is about what we’re learning about Republican voters themselves.
With the NBC poll in mind, Rachel’s take on the state of the race rings true:
“He’s the only top-tier Republican candidate who loses by double digits. not only to Hillary Clinton, but also to Bernie Sanders. But Republican voters want him anyway. And that ends up not being an interesting thing about Donald Trump. It’s an interesting thing about Republican voters. They keep picking him, and they know he would lose, but they like him anyway. They know he’s going to lose, and they don’t care. They love this guy.“So, all this beltway analysis that says that Donald Trump’s star is going to fall, because all of the ways in which he is not electable, right, there’s the reason all that punditry, and all that beltway common wisdom keeps getting proven wrong with each new passing day and each new poll showing Donald Trump on top, because Republican voters do not give a flying comb-over about who is electable. They just want somebody to fall in love with, and they have fallen in love with him.”
Remember, we’ve seen this before in the recent past. Republicans could have won a Senate race in Delaware, but they wanted a candidate who made them happy (Christie O’Donnell), not a candidate who would win (Mike Castle). They could have won a Senate race in Indiana, but they wanted an ideologically satisfying candidate (Richard Mourdock), not a candidate with broad appeal (Richard Lugar).
Sure, this may change. Trump’s role in the race has been unpredictable thus far, so no one can say with confidence what the race will look like in early 2016.
But the GOP base has been told repeatedly – by party leaders, by conservative media, even by Republican candidates – that compromise is wrong. Concessions of any kind are offensive.
It’s a little late in the game for the same party to tell these same voters not to support the unelectable guy at the top of the polls.