No matter what happens, I promise not to write about Donald Trump tomorrow. But for today, I thought Ruth Marcus provided a small service in helping us understand the Trump phenomenon in her column today by asking the question: Who are the Trump supporters?
For answers, unsurprisingly, she turned to the just-published Washington Post poll, the one that showed Trump with a large lead over the other 49 Republican presidential aspirants (although, it also showed a sharp drop in support for Trump on the final day of the survey, the day after Trump’s insult to John McCain’s war record was widely reported). Marcus posed an obvious question: What kinds of Republicans said Trump was their first choice for the nomination?
The answer was simple: They are younger, poorer and less-educated than the overall poll sample. (They are not, by the way, overwhelmingly male, which caused Marcus to tut-tut thus: “Ladies, I expected better.”)
In “First Read,” its every-morning-note-for-political-junkies, the NBC news team turned for Trump-bump understanding to the story of the 2011-12 Republican primary race. Thus:
“In the July 2011 NBC/WSJ poll, the leaders were Romney and Michele Bachmann. In August, it was Rick Perry and Romney. In October, it was Herman Cain and Romney. A month later, it was Romney and Cain again. And in Dec. 2011, it was Newt Gingrich and Romney. So what does that tell us? For starters, the GOP race was incredibly volatile, always featuring Romney vs. an anti-Romney alternative flavor the month. But maybe more importantly, it was about an anti-Romney constituency in search of a candidate. These were voters who weren’t wild about Romney, who weren’t wild about the Republican establishment as a whole, but who wanted someone else. And eventually, they settled on Rick Santorum (the last anti-Romney standing). So if that lesson from 2011-2012 taught us anything, it’s that Trump’s rise isn’t about Donald Trump; folks, he isn’t going to be the GOP’s nominee. Rather, it’s about where his supporters/voters go. Trump’s constituency is very real and perhaps durable — even if they end up candidate shopping again.”
So, for the sake of discussion, let’s say Jeb Bush is the Mitt Romney of 2016. He’s the establishment candidate (although it must be noted that he doesn’t yet enjoy the kind of overwhelming support of the party establishment that Romney did and it’s possible to imagine that someone else will play the role of establishment choice). He’s dull and avoids radical-sounding statements.
To the ears of the Trump crowd, he’s a ditherer who talks without saying anything and doesn’t promise the kind of deep, angry change that is needed. They want someone who sounds different, who violates the norms of political correctness, who seems to be speaking from the gut, who is proposing fundamental change even if the details sound crazy to the public policy mavens. To the writers of “First Read,” the constituency that feels this way is a “very real and perhaps durable” element of the Republican electorate. If/when Trump blows, they will get on the bandwagon of a different anti-establishment candidate.
One last thing
One last thing from back in the Marcus column and the Post poll and which explains one of the ways Trump could turn into the ultimate Republican nightmare for 2016: In a trial heat match-up between Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton, Clinton wins by 50 to 44 among registered voters.
But in a three-way, Clinton-Bush-Trump race, Trump gets 20 percent, most of them voters who would prefer Bush over Clinton if those were their only choices, and thus Clinton’s beats Bush by 46 to 30. That’s a 10-point increase in Clinton’s lead by virtue of having Trump in race.