We’ve discussed in several different contexts whether Trumpism will survive Trump. By and large, I think it will. But it’s a more complicated question what exactly Trumpism will be without Trump. But here’s some interesting data for the question.
Huffpo and YouGov just polled how satisfied Republicans are with their candidate. The quick version is that they’re a lot less satisfied than they were in June before the party conventions. In June, when asked whether Trump was or wasn’t the “best option” to be nominee, Republicans were split 44%-44%. When they ran the poll again a few days ago they numbers had shifted markedly. Now 35% say yes and 54% say no.
This is hardly surprising. Since June Trump has largely botched his nominating convention, got into a wildly self-destructive battle with the Khan family and is now in the midst of abandoning his signature policy positions. Of course, the biggest driver is the fact that polls strongly suggest Trump will be defeated, maybe by a big margin, and Hillary Clinton will be the 45th President. There are plenty of reasons that opinion should have changed. You might even say it’s pretty surprising that 35% still think he is the best option.
But here’s the other number, which in some ways I find more revealing.
What if GOP voters could start over? If they could take a mulligan on the 2016 process and vote over, 29% would vote Trump, 15% would vote Cruz, 14% for Rubio and the rest all under 10%. And here’s the key, those numbers are identical to June. There’s been no change. The only real upshot of the primaries appears to be the final and irrecoverable destruction of Jeb! as a political force in American life.
29% was in the ballpark of what Trump was getting before people started dropping out and before you had a bandwagon effect. So I think there’s a decent argument that in fact nothing has really changed. Obviously now Republicans stare at the fact that barring some major change Trump seems like a weak general election candidate. But that was widely understood during the primaries. That’s not new information. There was some level of denial about it, especially after he’d all but clinched the nomination. But realizing that Trump would sink fast in a more divers and sane general election electorate was not something that didn’t occur to people till this summer.
Now there is a counter here. In 2020 you’ll have different Republican candidates. Maybe you’ll have someone better, or more specifically someone able to unite the different factions of the party rather than divide them and take the bigger half for himself. Also, presumably you won’t have Trump. Although, who knows? Maybe you will. If Hillary is really unpopular coming up for reelection, with this numbers, if I were him I’d consider it. But assuming the cast is totally different, maybe these do-over numbers don’t mean that much. All that said, though, I think we can say that Trump’s popularity with a sizable plurality of Republicans remains more or less undiminished. And there’s a very good chance that if we started the whole process over again, he’d win again.
That tells us quite a lot about whether Trumpism is just a fluke that the GOP can put behind it after November.