Waking Up With the Republican Establishment Nightmare

The appearance of an Ann Selzer Iowa Poll (cosponsored by the Des Moines Register and Bloomberg Politics) over the weekend must have felt for Establishment Republicans like the cliched moment in cheesy fiction where one wakes up from a nightmare only to realize it’s real. It’s helpful to understand that Selzer’s polls represent sort of the gold standard of state polling–up there with California’s Field Poll and the Marquette Law School polls in Wisconsin. They are difficult to write off as outliers.

So the Iowa Poll’s confirmation of the upside-down nature of the GOP presidential contest, with the assumed front-runners badly trailing people who have never accomplished a thing in politics, has to be pretty shocking to people who are in denial about it all. As will be widely noted, the three candidates who have never held elected office–Trump, Carson and Fiorina–together come in at 46% in the horse race portion of the Iowa Poll, while the early presumed front-runners–Walker, Bush and Rubio–pull a booming 20%. Do second-place preferences hide some big potential turnaround for the former big boys? Nope: Trump, Carson and Fiorina together get 34% as second choices, while Walker, Bush and Rubio get 21%.

How about the favorable-unfavorable ratios? Reflecting other polls, the single most shocking change since the last Iowa Poll in May is Trump’s improvement in favorability ratios from 27/63 to 61/35. I mean, that just doesn’t happen, but it did.

Ben Carson’s favorability ratio is at a near unanimous 79/8, which makes you wonder if people are really listening to the Crazy beneath his happy-talk about unity and common sense. If they are, that’s scary.

Perhaps the most fascinating number, however, is Scott Walker’s favorability ratio of 71/15, about the same as when he was killing it in Iowa earlier this year. He’s now in something of the same boat as Rubio, Mr. High Favorability, Low Horse Race (67/20 in this poll, tied for fifth in the preference vote with Jeb Bush). And then there’s Bush, whose favorability ratio in Iowa remains underwater (40/45), as does that of once-terrifying Rand Paul (39/49) and the desperately floundering Chris Christie (29/59) and RINO pariah Lindsey Graham (15/59).

One other set of numbers for the Republicans is worth noting: asked if any of the candidates outside their first and second preferences are people they could never support, likely caucusgoers expressed significantly more antipathy to John Kasich (40% could never support him) and Jeb Bush (39%) than to Donald Trump (29%) or Ted Cruz (24%).

Yeah, it’s still early, and of course, in Iowa grassroots organization matters more than popularity. Moreover, as Nancy LeTourneau pointed out yesterday, the “silly season” of August is about to be replaced by a September full of real news and actual drama in Washington. September will not be “about” Donald Trump.

But I dunno: two big September issues, the Iran Nuclear Deal and the fight over Planned Parenthood funding, are almost certainly going to produce fresh evidence of the inability of Republicans in Congress to “keep their promises” to the conservative activist rank-and-file of the GOP, the fuel for the “outsider” surge in the GOP presidential field. The next debates, on September 16, will come right before that new proof Establishment impotence begins to sink in. If somebody other than Trump’s going to shake up the field again, it needs to start happening then. I’d say September looks like Cruz Country.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.