As Trump Surges to a Big Lead Again, the GOP Establishment Is In Deep Trouble

Remember when all the pundits again declared Rubio and/or Cruz won the last GOP debate? I hate to sound like a broken record, but about that:

According to the five-day rolling Reuters/Ipsos presidential poll, Trump has leapt some 17 percentage points among likely Republican voters since Nov. 6, when he was essentially tied with Ben Carson at about 25 percent. Trump now captures 42 percent of those voters while Carson has fallen off slightly.

Among all Republicans – not simply likely primary voters -Trump holds a substantial edge over Carson, at 34 percent to about 20 percent, according to the Reuters/Ipsos poll.

Trump’s appearance on NBC’s Saturday Night Live earned the program its highest ratings in two years, with 9.3 million viewers tuning in. Then, on Tuesday, 13.5 million viewers watched the debate from Milwaukee broadcast on the Fox Business Network.

The long-awaited Trump decline is unlikely to happen. The Republican base is a deeply xenophobic, resentful mess that is most interested at the moment in promoting its most aggressively anti-establishment voices. That means Trump, Carson, or both. Republicans whose religious conservatism overrides other factors lean Carson, those for whom immigration and business-worship take precedence choose Trump. There’s also a marked gender divide, with women Republicans supporting Carson heavily over Trump and men vice versa. That’s mostly a demeanor issue, but Carson isn’t any less radical than Trump; he just comes in a calmer package.

There is some speculation, even in the Reuters article about the poll itself, that Trump might fall after his weird rant on Thursday against Carson:

It remains to be seen, however, whether Trump’s surge will hold in the wake of his comments at an Iowa rally Thursday night in which he tore into Carson, telling the crowd that Carson has a “pathological” temper.

“If you’re pathological, there’s no cure for that,” Trump said. “If you’re a child molester, there’s no cure for that.”

But, of course, Trump has made outrageous statements in the past and they haven’t hurt him much. Moreover, any impact of Trump’s statements will likely be blunted by the news from Paris, which plays into Trump’s strengths with base GOP voters.

On a broader note, there is no reason to believe that the GOP establishment will be able to win this election. The RealClearPolitics average doesn’t factor in the latest Ipsos/Reuters poll yet (so even its average undersells the point), but the averages of the polls tell a compelling story.

The anti-establishment candidates that make the RNC blanche are Trump, Carson, Cruz and Huckabee, with possibly Fiorina and Rand Paul added in. The combined Trump and Carson vote is 48%. Add in Cruz’ vote and it’s 59%. Throw Huckabee’s vote in there and it’s 62%. Fiorina and Paul take 7%, and at best their vote splits between outsiders and establishment.

That’s over 2/3 of the GOP electorate. The establishment candidates Bush, Rubio, Kasich and Christie don’t even get a quarter of the GOP vote combined , and most of the rest of the also-ran field is anti-establishment. Meanwhile, it’s not likely to come to Cruz versus Rubio, anyway: most of Trump’s voters are Carson second choice, and most of Carson’s are Trump second choice.

The GOP establishment is almost certain to lose this primary. It’s unclear why, beyond wishful thinking, anyone thinks that Trump and Carson are still headed for a fall.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.