Trump Has Less Potential!

I’ve been having some fun of late mocking the frantic efforts of various personages in the GOP and the MSM to show Donald Trump in some sort of free fall. We have a fresh example today in a decidedly odd message from the ABC/WaPo polling team about a comparison of Trump with Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina. Here’s the headline: “Divisions Mark Trump’s Popularity; Bases Are Broader for Carson, Fiorina.”

This sounds rather like the answer to a question nobody was asking, doesn’t it?

The release, which seems to be based on fresh polling data, presents no horse-race numbers at all, or any numbers on the rest of the vast GOP field. And the data that is presented seems contrived to make unstated assumptions about the qualities that may or may not matter as the GOP contest gets serious:

A growing gender gap, sharp racial polarization and a less-educated base of support all pose potential limits on Donald Trump’s popularity – challenges largely avoided by Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina, the two lesser-known figures in the triumvirate of non-traditional GOP contenders.

The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll also finds Trump with no clear ideological home and very weak popularity outside his political party. Carson and Fiorina are better positioned on these, as well. While Trump’s better known, their support profiles are much broader.

Beats me why Trump’s gender gap matters all that much, or why he needs an “ideological home” (i.e., stronger support in one ideological category as opposed to others) to win. You could just as easily say his support is very broad-based. As for racial polarization: since when has that been a problem in a Republican nominating contest? Yes, you can make a case that less-educated Republicans are slightly less likely to vote than their college-educated counterparts. But in some parts of the country (i.e., the South), the kind of advantage Trump has with conservative white working class voters is a big and positive deal.

And then there’s the issue of Trump’s favorability ratings, which among Republicans stand at a robust 62/34 in this poll. That’s better than Fiorina’s 47/27, and not as good as Carson’s 68/14. Fair enough. But check out this prediction:

One factor is that Carson and Fiorina are much less well-known than Trump, with “no opinion” results of 28 percent for Carson and 35 percent for Fiorina, vs. Trump’s 5 percent. That said, Fiorina’s favorability rating is the same as Trump’s, and Carson’s is 10 points higher. It’s only in unfavorability that Trump’s rating exceeds theirs – and widely so.

That means that while Carson and Fiorina have to win over undecideds, Trump’s tougher task is to turn around those who now see him negatively.

That, of course, is precisely what Trump has been doing among GOP voters for the last three months.

Look, it’s entirely possible Trump has peaked and is about to fade. But there’s just not a lot of evidence yet, and efforts like these to spin Trump into submission just are not very convincing.

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.