From the sound of the pundits on cable news last night, the word on the street is that Trump is going to clean Cruz's clock later today in Indiana. But then this primary season had had its share of surprises, so who knows? Still, this is likely to be the last chance for the #NeverTrump movement to gain enough traction to stop Trump from winning on the first ballot. If so, that's the game.
The official party establishment is trying to come to terms with their fate. They'll likely fall in line. It's what they do. And they're starting to admonish everyone else to fall in also. For instance, GOP strategist John Feehery wrote in The Hill yesterday,
"The conservative intelligentsia (not necessarily a contradiction in terms) is being stupid about Donald Trump. And in the process, they are revealing their biases against democracy and the will of the people."
He specifically called out Michael Gerson, Ross Douthat, George Will and David Brooks for being unenthusiastic about the presumptive nominee, saying,
"I am not of the opinion that a Trump candidacy will do long-lasting damage to the party or the country. I guess that’s why I am not part of the conservative intelligentsia."
Feehery is usually a common-sense fellow who doesn't get caught up in the hype, but it appears he's opting to be a good party man when it comes to Trump and is trying to make the best of things. But he's wrong. Trump's election would be catastrophic for the country. Luckily, there's still a chance to stop that from happening. But the damage he's doing to the Republican Party is is severe and, by the time he's finished, it may not be recoverable.
It's too soon to make any specific predictions about November. But recent polling suggests that there is a very clear "Trump effect," and it isn't good. The latest RAND presidential election survey was just released and it shows a startling shift as Trump has become the presumptive nominee:
Our previous survey results suggested that as of early January, 46.7 percent of voters would vote for a Democrat and 43.1 percent would vote for a Republican in the upcoming presidential election. These results suggested a greater vote for the Democratic candidate. In March, our results indicate that 53.0 percent of voters will vote for a Democrat, and 37.9 percent will vote for a Republican in the upcoming presidential election, suggesting that the Democratic candidates are pulling ahead of the Republicans in the national vote.
This report from Jon Ralston in Nevada shows that Democrats are out-registering Republicans in Nevada by a two-to-one margin. He writes:
Smart Republicans are worried about this trend, whether it is caused by Donald Trump or the Reid Machine or some combination thereof. The GOP can hold out hope that the growing nonpartisan registration, now at almost 19 percent, might favor their slate. But as Harry Reid seeks to go out with a bang, these numbers indicate the Democrats' chances of winning Nevada in the presidential race, keeping Reid's seat, taking two competitive congressional seats from the GOP and turning the Legislature blue again are not pie in the sky.
Whether it’s Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, the Republican presidential nominee looks like a sure loser to Hillary Clinton in Florida because of the Republicans’ lack of popularity with crucial voting blocs in the state, according to a poll conducted last week by the business lobby Associated Industries of Florida.
Clinton would wallop Trump by 49-36 percent if the election were held today and she’d best Cruz 48-39 percent, according to the poll of 604 likely Florida voters.
Tyson said the numbers are so bad for the GOP that it could hurt down-ballot Republicans and help Democrats capture the open U.S. Senate seat in Florida, which could cost Republicans control of the chamber. The only Republican who polled relatively well in the survey with women and Hispanics was Sen. Marco Rubio, who has said he will give up his seat after running for president this year.
Needless to say, this is very bad news for the GOP. One suspects that operatives like Feehery figure this will all be water under the bridge after Trump loses in the fall and the voters will have gotten all this crazy populist democracy out of their system. Then the Republican establishment can reassert its authority and bring everyone back into balance. Unfortunately for them, Donald Trump may be a flash in the pan, but his dominance in the media ensures that the Republican Party is going to be indelibly branded with the garish Trump logo for some time to come.
You'll recall that after the last shellacking in 2012, the Republicans famously did an "autopsy" of what went wrong. And they identified a very specific list of problems that contributed to their loss, not the least of which were their problems with young people, Latinos and women. The party's perceived hostility to these groups or simple lack of interest in their concerns were found to be so severe that unless the GOP changed course and found ways to better appeal to them, it would sink into a demographic quagmire from which it could not recover.
It's obvious that Donald Trump (and, frankly, the rest of the field as well) has gone in the opposite direction. Trump is working overtime to alienate women, at this point sitting on a 70 percent disapproval rate among that half of the population. A recent poll of millennials conducted by Harvard University's Institute of Politics revealed 61 percent of young Americans likely would vote for Clinton while 25 percent would support Trump. Only 17 percent have a positive opinion of him.
And since Trump's signature issue is deportation of millions of Latinos and building a wall to keep them out of the country, it goes without saying that the GOP outreach to that demographic isn't going too well. He has a 77 percent unfavorable rating.
The Washington Post's Greg Sargent pointed out yesterday that despite the best efforts of Speaker Paul Ryan to do the right thing for once, the GOP Congress is helping Trump alienate Hispanics even more with its inane refusal to help Puerto Rico restructure its debt. (This by Matthew Yglesias at Vox is a good explanatory piece on the issue.)
The result for the people of Puerto Rico is likely to be serious and unnecessary economic pain. The result for the Republican party will be well-deserved political destruction. Sargent writes:
Florida’s Puerto Rican population has now topped one million, according to Pew Research, as part of a broader trend of Puerto Ricans moving to the mainland amid economic woes back home. NPR recently put the count at over one million, too. And GOP pollsters say that these numbers could make a difference in 2016.
“The increased migration from Puerto Rico to Florida takes existing trends in the growth of the Hispanic vote and accelerates them,” veteran Republican pollster Whit Ayres, who has long warned that Republicans need to deal with the growing demographic threat that Hispanics pose to the GOP, tells me. “It makes Florida even more challenging to win without substantially improved support among Hispanic voters. Florida is obviously an extremely close swing state, where any significant increase on one side of the ledger makes a huge difference.”
There's also the little matter of Cuban Americans moving to the Democratic Party, particularly younger Cuban Americans. Trump is polling lower among the Florida Cuban population than any Republican in history. In fact, Trump is driving huge numbers of immigrants to seek citizenship. Naturalization applications are up 14 percent this election cycle and immigrant activists are working to motivate as many eligible people as possible to become citizens. Trump's candidacy is literally creating new Americans for the express purpose of voting against him.
The long lasting effects of this campaign on the Republican Party are profound. By the time the GOP establishment recognized their problems with women and Latinos and young people and attempted to ameliorate them, it was too late. Then, as luck would have it, Trump came along and exploited these dynamics with such an ugly ferocity, and with such success, that it was like trying to push back the tide.
If all these numbers hold up and continue to go in the same direction, the GOP won't do a postmortem after this election. Trump is pouring gasoline on the Party and setting it on fire --- there won't be enough of it left to conduct an autopsy.