Over the past two months I’ve read countless articles on the GOP “panic” over the candidacy of Donald Trump. It goes like this: Trump’s appeal to the base is overwhelming, but if he actually gets the nomination he’ll make a mockery of the party in the general election and basically hand a win to Hillary.
The latest such piece is from The Hill, and it’s basically more of the same:
The Republican establishment is nearing full-blown panic about Donald Trump.
The demise of Trump’s candidacy has been predicted by centrist Republicans and the media alike virtually since the day it began. But there is no empirical evidence at all to suggest it is happening.
I have always been in the camp that doesn’t take Trump’s candidacy seriously, and I still hold fast to that position.
The “panic,” if there actually is one, is based on a false idea of what the Trump campaign’s “downfall” would actually look like. Trump’s candidacy is unusual, as is his appeal to a certain sect of voters. He’s probably never going to dwindle in the polls and eventually announce that he’s “suspending” his campaign. Instead, he’s just not going to win in early primary states.
As many commentators are quick to point out, Trump’s poll numbers show him far atop the Republican heap (a heap of what, I will not say), but that can be illusory in terms of his popularity overall. He’s polling at 31% of Republican voters. Not bad, but keep in mind that less than 30% of Americans identify as Republican. That means Trump is polling at less-than-one-third of less-than-one-third. Even looking at the numbers in a way that’s very favorable to Trump, about 9% of the country supports him.
You might point out that in terms of a primary election all that we need to care about are party voters, and among Republican voters he’s still on top. True, but – and here’s where some speculation on my part comes in – it seems clear that Trump has reached his critical mass. There are two types of voters, Republican or otherwise: those who like Trump and always will, and those who don’t like Trump and never will. That means that when votes are actually cast, all that any other Republican candidate needs is 32% of the vote to beat Trump.
It seems obvious that in the next two months we’re going to see either Ted Cruz of Marco Rubio (or both) reach those kinds of numbers in the early primary states. It’s been apparent from the beginning that both of those establishment-favorites are playing the long game, and their numbers will only rise as the campaign becomes less frivolous and obvious losers continue to drop out. My prediction, which I hold fast to, is that Trump will be lucky to come in second.