Don't Underestimate Trump's Support
His chances in November look terrible, but it ain't over yet.
Ever since Donald Trump announced his candidacy, many observers have made the mistake of underestimating both him and his support. While we have consistently made the case that Trump is a con artist and clown who is utterly unworthy and unfit for the office of the presidency, we saw (and share!) voter angst and completely understand Trump’s populist appeal. We always have understood it, and said so early on.
Such is the state of discontent among voters that Trump is now all but the presumptive Republican nominee after trouncing Ted Cruz in Indiana Tuesday. Cruz and John Kasich quit the race, leaving Trump with no opposition and about 200 more delegates to win. That says a lot about the failed establishment and the state of our country after eight years of Barack Obama.
So, in one of the great ironies of our generation, a billionaire casino mogul and narcissistic philanderer will now head the party of social conservatism. And yet the lesson is clear: Don’t underestimate Trump’s support in the general election.
Some in the commentariat are understandably angry that voters rejected principled conservatism in favor of a crass blowhard they believe will simply blow up Washington. For the record, writes National Review’s Kevin Williamson, “Americans and Republicans, remember: You asked for this. Given the choice between a dozen solid conservatives and one Clinton-supporting con artist and game-show host, you chose the con artist. You chose him freely. Nobody made you do it.”
Williamson isn’t wrong and he’s far from alone among conservative thinkers and writers, but bitterness isn’t helpful, even if Trump supporters can be extraordinarily nasty in chastising us nonbelievers. Bitterness won’t convert a single Trump supporter, nor, arguably, at this point should it. With the primary battle now effectively behind us, the focus turns to the general election and Hillary Clinton. (Or Joe Biden — more on that from Mark Alexander later today.) Like it or not, either a Democrat or a Republican will be our next president.
The more charitable way to view this election cycle is that Trump established unshakeable support from those who looked at the crowded field of more standard Republicans and essentially said:
Why would we want more of the same? We lost with moderate squishes like Dole, McCain and Romney, and Bush was a disaster, so why not try something completely different? Instead of rebuilding the rest of the world — or apologizing to it — why not make America great again?
Trump benefited from three primary factors that we’ve outlined before: The Obama effect, the large fratricidal field of contenders (who spent most of their resources attacking not Trump but each other), and unceasing Leftmedia attention. Mainly, Trump’s supporters (like the rest of us) are just tired of watching yahoos in Washington trash our country.
Having warned against underestimating Trump’s chances in the general election, he faces a daunting task. He trails badly in the polls, and is even more widely disliked than Clinton (no small feat). As of today, the RealClearPolitics average shows Clinton up by 6.5%. And the same Leftmedia that propelled him to the nomination will now eviscerate him in service to the Democrat National Committee, possibly driving his poll numbers even lower.
And if you think that’s bad, Trump will now face a multi-million dollar barrage of ads ads like this:
If he is caught flat-footed as Mitt Romney was in 2012, the polls are going to look even worse.
More important than national polls, however, there’s this little thing the Founders created called the Electoral College. To reach the White House, a candidate must win at least 270 electoral votes. Unfortunately for Republicans, the current map gives a distinct advantage to Democrats.
Assuming Clinton wins Florida given her large lead in the polls there, The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza breaks down the math: “If Clinton wins the 19 states (and D.C.) that every Democratic nominee has won from 1992 to 2012, she has 242 electoral votes. Add Florida’s 29 and you get 271. Game over.”
For Republicans, the math isn’t so good. Using the same time frame as his standard, Cillizza says, “There are 13 states that have gone for the GOP presidential nominee in each of the last six elections. But they only total 102 electorate votes. That means the eventual nominee has to find, at least, 168 more electoral votes to get to 270. Which is a hell of a lot harder than finding 28 electoral votes.”
November is a political lifetime away, and a lot will happen between now and then. Will Clinton be indicted for mishandling classified information? Will Trump lose the lawsuit against Trump University? Will two badly fractured parties unite behind their respective nominees?
Republican primary voters have made their choice. We think it was a poor one, but we also don’t underestimate Trump’s ability to overcome all the negatives and, against all odds, win in November.
(Updated after Kasich dropped out.)