With the collective sphincters of many conservative writers, bloggers, and media tighter than Mark Watney’s when he left Mars, and the fate of the conservative movement hanging in the balance, there’s good news.
Trump’s supporters are loud, and some of his critics are also loud, but the “silent majority” he is courting may not like him nearly as much as he thinks.
Robert Tracinski over at The Federalist wrote an excellent analysis of what is now a three-man race: Trump, Cruz, and Rubio.
Trump’s strategy, by contrast, has a major subtractive element. He has pandered so hard to one particular kind of voter that they have given him their fanatical devotion. My ultimate theory on Trump’s appeal is that his core base of support is the unpandered-to voter, the kind of people who feel they have been slighted and ignored by every other politician because no one has ever come out before and told them they’re absolutely right about how Mexican rapists pouring across the border are the source of all our problems, or about how we have to shut down trade with China because they’re taking away our jobs. I suspect that’s why these people are unfazed when you tell them that Trump doesn’t have a consistent record and that he’s just pandering to them and telling them what they want to hear. For these voters, that misses the real point. The point is that he’s pandering to them and telling them what they want to hear. Nobody’s ever really done that before, so they’re ecstatic.
But there’s a reason nobody ever panders to these voters, or at least why nobody ever panders to them as hard as Trump has. The harder you appeal to this one group, the more you risk alienating other groups. Pander to the hard-core anti-immigrationists and you lose the Hispanic vote. Pander to the wild-eyed populists and you lose the sober moderates. Pander to the emotion-driven voters, and you lose the ideological voters. You get huge support within a particular group at the expense of high opposition everywhere else. It’s a subtractive strategy.
The numbers work out that Nobody is more hated than Trump (Nobody being John Kasich–even Bush is less hated in most of the polls).
This is an enormous problem in the general election, where Trump is spectacularly unpopular. As the New York Post observes, both parties are about to nominate candidates that most Americans hate. But it’s also a problem in the primaries. Trump is the only major Republican candidate where there are a lot of people in the party who would rather drive a rail spike through their foreheads than vote for him.
It’s also a problem in the primaries, and especially in Iowa. Looking at the latest polls that have tracked favorability, Trump is in the cellar.
In order for Trump to win Iowa, he would have to overthrow decades of caucus attendee trends. He would have to completely hijack the GOP base–a virtual miracle. Polls are one thing, but in a caucus, getting people to the building on time is the game (a ground game, which Cruz, Rubio and Carson are quietly pursuing).
Despite his lead in the polls, what makes me skeptical about Trump’s path to the nomination is that he only wins if This Time Is Different. He wins if celebrity culture has completely rewritten the rules and overturned everything everybody knows about running a campaign. And over the years, a lot of people have come to grief thinking that This Time Is Different.
This will soon become an either/or scenario. Either Trump overcomes everyone’s doubts and takes Iowa decisively, or he starts to fade. Winning only works when you win, and all bluster aside, Trump’s response to losing may be more important than anything else that he does in this race.
If he lives up to his predictable nature, it won’t be pretty.