They know that dozens of polls have shown Clinton trouncing Trump, often by double digits. But they were struck by a recent George Washington University Battleground Poll that showed Clinton winning by just 3 points. It's just one poll, but for some it confirmed the idea that there might be a different dynamic at work in the race once Trump becomes the nominee and the contest is simply Donald vs. Hillary. The fight will become more even. "Trump does bring a little magic to this in that he could shuffle the traditional battleground map," one former presidential campaign manager told me. "I haven't seen any data on that, but I'm just getting a feeling that he's going to put a couple of Midwestern states in play."
Donald Trump may be lacking in a great number of qualities, but when it comes to self-confidence, his cup runneth over. Naturally, this extends to the Republican presidential frontrunner's campaign, which he assumes will be a great success.
The Washington Post's Greg Sargent noted this morning that Trump told an Indiana audience yesterday that defeating Hillary Clinton in a general election will hardly pose any challenge at all. "Folks, I haven't even started yet," the GOP candidate said. "Now I'm going to start focusing on Hillary. It's going to be so easy."
Trump isn't the only Republican who's exceedingly, albeit bafflingly, optimistic about a future Trump White House. During an online chat yesterday, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), rumored to be eyeing his party's vice presidential nomination, insisted that "all 50 states could be in play" with Trump at the top of the Republican ticket this fall.
He did not appear to be kidding. As Gingrich sees it, literally every state -- no matter how "blue," no matter how diverse, no matter how consistently it's supported Democrats in the recent past -- will be competitive thanks entirely to Trump's broad national appeal.
What's more, the Washington Examiner's Byron York reported last week he's had "private conversations with several stalwart Republicans," including a former top party official, former members of Congress, and two former managers of GOP presidential campaigns, and he was struck by some of their hopefulness about November.
York added that GOP insiders may be "deluding themselves," but some influential Republicans are nevertheless "beginning to question the assumption that Trump is guaranteed to lose big."
Perhaps it's best not to brush past the "deluding themselves" observation too quickly.
We'll explore the general-election probabilities in plenty of detail once the primaries and caucuses have officially wrapped up, but it's not too early to note that Donald Trump is currently one of the least liked people in American public life. He's woefully unpopular across every demographic in every corner of the country. There's an entire contingent within the Republican Party itself -- the #NeverTrump forces -- that, though ineffective in the primaries, are committed to Trump's defeat.
Heck, even George Will, one of the media's most prominent Republican voices, devoted his most recent column to the idea that GOP voters have a solemn responsibility to defeat Trump in a general election if he's the Republican nominee.
The idea that Trump's success in a general election will be "easy," that he'll turn reliable blue states into competitive battlegrounds, that he has the capacity to "bring a little magic" to the cycle, is very difficult to take seriously.
In fairness, most Republican officials are approaching the presidential race with a sense of dread, not exuberance. But the fact that there are some in the GOP, including Trump himself, who are bursting with optimism suggests their tether to reality is starting to fray.