Let’s face it. Nothing is ever a certainty in politics before it’s done. But not since 2000 and probably not since long before that has there been more evidence that the GOP frontrunner would end up being the nominee. For months people were comparing Donald Trump’s poll dominance to various one-month wonder ‘frontrunners’ back in 2012. But the reality is that not in any race since 2000 – and again, probably not since well before – has any frontrunner so consistently held a lead in so many different states and nationwide.
Here are some key data points from today that drive the point home.
This new poll from CNN.
Trump at 41% nationwide among Republicans. That’s a bit more support than he had in the same poll a month ago and in line with most other national polls that show him with a huge lead nationwide, as well as substantial leads in the first three big contests (and basically every other state in the country that’s been polled.)
Next, Jerry Falwell Jr endorses Donald Trump.
I’m hoping this will help put to rest the belief of too many gullible journalists that ‘Christian conservatives’ are materially different from other parts of the Republican base. If anything proves it, it’s this endorsement of Trump. But even if you don’t want to draw that larger conclusion, this should make clear that the religious right will not be an unmovable obstacle to Trump’s securing the nomination.
Finally, Charlie Dent.
You probably haven’t heard of Charlie Dent. And there’s no big reason you would have. He’s a moderate Republican congressman from Allentown, Pennsylvania. He thinks Trump is a better choice for nominee than Ted Cruz because Cruz is a “rigid ideologue.” “Donald Trump is ideologically scattered and malleable. In my view, a more rigid ideology would have a much harder time assembling a winning general election coalition than the less doctrinaire candidate.”
We’ve already noted the substantial number of establishment Republicans and/or elected officials who are opting for Trump over Cruz, if they’re forced to make that choice. And I’ve already made the point that a lot of that comes from a visceral hatred of Cruz. But there’s a logic to it too. Trump is much more malleable – to put it generously. And I think he has more cross-over appeal than people realize.
I see the two of them like this. I think Trump as nominee could face a much bigger defeat than Cruz might suffer. But I also think he could do much better. I also think he could be elected, though I see it as a fairly unlikely outcome.
The key is that Trump is a much less predictable proposition. I think it is entirely possible, even probable, that Trump will dramatically shift his emphasis as nominee, simply changing some positions and emphasizing some things he’s already talking about but doesn’t talk about much. For instance, infrastructure or his general opposition to foreign military entanglements. Those are things a lot of Democrats believe in. And that’s not all. Along with all the immigrant and Muslim bashing and general nonsense, Trump has had a steady stream of against big business for the little guy type talk. And this is also something that is a thread going back decades in his politics, to the extent it’s discernible.
Indeed, I think this is what scares ideological conservatives the most about Trump: that after a year or two (or maybe a month or two) as President he might switch gears and be like a second term Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. (Schwarzenegger actually went Bloombergian social/climate liberal. Trump could actually go rogue in a more economic populist direction – terrifying for Movement Conservative ideologues.) This doesn’t mean I think Trump is a closet liberal. If you look at his career, to the extent there’s a politics that is discernible, it’s authoritarian, scapegoating of marginal groups but mainly playing to the whim and popularity of the moment. If it suited him, I think he could embrace a politics that is altogether different from the one he’s pushing now. Cruz will not and cannot do anything like that. Trump can. And I suspect he will. Cliche as it may sound, it truly is all about the sale. And we should not delude ourselves about the upending appeal of a ‘ban the Muslims and Mexicans, rebuild the roads and bridges’ campaign platform.
Cruz on the contrary is predictable. He is strident, not likable and I think by close to objective standards too conservative for a national electorate. I suspect that gets you a 55+ win for the person who runs against him. But it’s predictable. Trump could be much worse or much better. And here’s the thing about Trump: as big a clown as you may think he is, as much as you hate the things he now stands for, he has a demonstrable personal appeal. If a lot of people did not find him appealing and entertaining at some level he would not have had a quite popular (at least at first) reality tv show for almost a decade. He wouldn’t.
More and more we are seeing the establishment of the Republican party come around to the idea of Trump being the nominee and deciding to make the best of it. The fact that Ted Cruz now seems to be close to the only viable alternative just seals the deal.
Could Trump still not get the nomination? Absolutely. Anything is possible and politics is inherently unpredictable. But there are fewer and fewer reasons at this point to doubt what all the evidence is telling us: which is that he is the overwhelming favorite to win the nomination.