Let’s stipulate that given the field of losers he’s pitted against, his outsized persona and the rise of anti-establishmentarianism in the Republican Party, Donald Trump could actually win the GOP nomination for president.
But before our smart Calbuzz readers get too excited and start drinking the Kool-Aid being served up by the brilliant minds of the East Coast media machine, let’s take a deep breath and understand what’s actually happening in all those polls showing Trump in the lead in various contests.
There are two levels of analysis: national and statewide. The former tells us how Republicans nationwide view their field; the latter, how Republicans in key states (especially Iowa and New Hampshire, the first contests) view the field.
In both cases, The Donald is ahead. But what does that mean?
Reeps Mostly for Someone Else Let’s consider the most recent reputable nationwide polls by CBS, Bloomberg, Fox and NBC and the Wall Street Journal. They show Donald Trump with support ranging from 19% to 26% with an average of about 23% and a lead over Jeb Bush averaging about 9 percentage points.
What that means is that 77% of Republicans nationwide want someone OTHER than Donald Trump. Yes, he’s leading in a field of 17 candidates. But it’s not at all clear that when the field narrows and Republican voters are choosing between Trump and one of the more conventional reactionaries seeking the nomination, that The Donald can continue to hold a lead.
The same thing applies in the various statewide polls we keep seeing, in which Trump leads Bush or Dr. Ben Carson, or Gov. John Kasich or whoever by whatever number of points. If the election were held today and voters were confronted with the same field of candidates that’s out there now, Trump would be the leading vote getter.
The Donald is Clickbait Let’s be blunt: that notion is bullshit. And the East Coast media geniuses know it. The Donald is good for their viewership and ratings and there’s a thin thread of a story available to keep Trump in the news. So why not continue to tell readers how great Trump is doing? It’s eyeballs and clickbait, baby.
By the time the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary come around, the field will likely be much smaller than it is today, half-a-year before either event. At that point, Republicans in those states likely will be deciding between Trump and one, two or three other candidates.
Now the one caveat to all this is the effect of Citizens United, which makes it more possible than it’s ever been for an otherwise second-tier candidate to stay in the race on the strength of one or two big donors’ money. In past cycles, candidates would flame out early because they couldn’t raise the money to keep going. Now, with a super PAC and an anonymous Sugar Daddy, a candidate can hang in there much longer.
That, of course, would benefit Trump, whose 20-30% support looks good only in a crowded field.
Finally, let’s consider other findings in national polls in recent years that would suggest there’s a chunk of the population who will buy into all sorts of nutcase ideas:
— About four in 10 people believe “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.”
— On the 25th anniversary of his death, 10% of Republicans said they thought Elvis Presley might still be alive and 7% weren’t sure. Deep thinking on Elvis — dead or alive — continues apace.
— Despite all the scientific evidence to the contrary, 6% of American believe vaccinations cause autism in children and 52% are unsure.
There are still plenty of people who believe dinosaurs and human beings roamed the earth at the same time, that the moon landing was faked and that professional wrestling is real. In other words, finding a small cohort of the population who will buy just about anything is not so unusual. And if the pitchman is someone as bold, brash and self-sure as Donald Trump, it’s no wonder there’s some slice of the population ready to believe.
Bottom line: The East Coast media elites need to learn how to read their own damn polling. And calm down, fer cryin’ out loud.
PS, this note from NBC’s political unit suggests that at least some folks back there are trying to keep some perspective:
*** A polling context reminder: Speaking of Rick Perry, NBC’s Brooke Brower reminds us that early national polling always pairs best with a dose of historical context. Case in point: An NBC/WSJ national poll at the end of August 2011 had Rick Perry leading the field with 38%, followed by Mitt Romney at 23% and everyone else in single digits. Eventual Iowa Caucuses winner Rick Santorum pulled 3%. Going back one more cycle, an early September 2007 NBC/WSJ national poll had Rudy Giuliani leading the GOP field at 32% followed by Fred Thompson at 26%, John McCain at 14% and Romney at 11%. Eventual Iowa Caucuses winner Mike Huckabee pulled 4%. On the Democratic side, that same national NBC/WSJ poll in September 2007 had Hillary Clinton leading Barack Obama 44% to 23%. John Edwards pulled 16% with everyone else in single digits. By the week of Labor Day in both 2007 and 2011, there had been several GOP debates already. On the Democratic side in 2007, we were getting ready for the TENTH debate happening days after Labor Day. On Labor Day 2015, we’ll be getting ready for just the second GOP debate on Sept. 16th. The first Democratic debate will be Oct. 13th.
Caveat emptor, windbags.