Can the Republican Victory Bring Conservative Governance?
Since Donald Trump burst onto the Republican political scene, the biggest of many surprises has been his staying-power.
October 2015 | by David Delaney
A recent Quinnipiac survey helps explain why: Trump has surged to a large lead nationally because he has been strong not only in the portions of the electorate observers expected him to dominate, but also among voters who seemed likely to reject him. Most other national surveys in recent days have pointed in the same direction, although the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed Sen. Ted Cruz rising by 8 points since January to 28% and Trump falling by 7 points to 26%. (In the absence of confirming evidence, this survey should be regarded as an outlier, at least for now.)
Among Republicans and Republican-leaning voters nationwide, Mr. Trump now enjoys a 2 to 1 lead over his nearest competitors, Cruz and Sen. Marco Rubio. He enjoys even larger margins among men, voters without college degrees, and among those who regard themselves as moderate to liberal or only “somewhat conservative.”
No surprises there, based on the New York billionaire’s sharply-etched profile. But consider these findings: Trump leads all other Republicans among women as well as men, college graduates as well as less-educated voters. He trails only Ted Cruz among very conservative voters, even though he rejects virtually all the tenets of the conservative movement. And amazingly, he leads Cruz among white evangelical and born-again Christians, despite a life-style and positions on social issues that contradict much of what these voters long have professed to regard as fundamental.
Trump enjoys a large advantage in public support, moreover, despite ranking at or near the bottom on most of the personal characteristics that voters value in prospective presidents—honesty and trustworthiness, caring about people’s needs and problems, sharing their values, and having the right experience. He leads in only one area—strong leadership qualities. It speaks volumes about the current mood among Republicans that the desire for strength appears strong enough to trump all other considerations, even among voters who prize piety and humility.
Other evidence suggests that Trump has a low ceiling as well as a high floor. On the one hand, his supporters are more committed than are those of any other candidate. In the most recent CBS News poll, on the other hand, 50% of likely Republican primary and caucus participants regarded his policy proposals as “not realistic,” compared to 33% for Cruz and 31% for Rubio. According to USA Today/Suffolk, only 31% of Republicans want a candidate with an ambitious agenda, while 55% want a limited agenda that the candidate credibly promises to get done. And few Republicans say that Trump is their second choice—fewer than for any other candidate. In short, the national numbers suggest that Trump will continue an enjoy an advantage as long as the field of his opponents remains large and divided but would encounter increasing difficulty as the field narrows and would probably lose a one-on-one contest to a number of challengers.
As veteran primary observers know, however, the presidential nominating process is played out over time, and what happens at each stage can reshape the national picture, sometimes abruptly. In the end, a nominating contest becomes a delegate hunt. Complex rules translate raw votes into delegates, and these rules vary from state to state.