David Brooks notwithstanding, this is not a wonderful moment to be a conservative. A new poll out of California highlights the disaster looming for the Republican Party across the nation, but particularly in blue states.
The most troubling problem is that even in a big blue state like California, Trump holds a commanding 7-point lead over Ted Cruz. As Trump will certainly hold the plurality of delegates entering the national GOP convention, Republicans are currently trying to figure out whether to back him and let come what may, or wrest the nomination from him in a brokered convention. But the brokered convention strategy relies mostly on Trump’s not reaching an outright delegate majority–a question that may not be resolved until California’s large batch of delegates is determined. If the business magnate wins big in California, he will probably reach the delegate majority he needs, crushing establishment hopes of subverting his nomination.
But the even more troubling issue for Republicans is that the party is deeply, deeply divided no matter what they do. Many moderate and evangelical Republicans despise Trump and say they will not vote for him. Meanwhile, Trump’s voters cannot stand Ted Cruz:
A quarter of California Republican voters polled said they would refuse to vote for Trump in November if he is the party’s nominee. Almost one-third of those backing Trump’s leading competitor, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, said they would not cast a ballot for Trump. Voters who back Trump, meanwhile, are critical of Cruz, with only half holding a favorable impression of him.
Much of this is probably overblown, of course: when Republicans are faced with the prospect of a Clinton or Sanders presidency, the vast majority will still hold their nose and toe the line for the GOP. But these numbers constitute an unprecedented level of disaffection with their choices. That’s understandable: many ideological and theocratic conservatives don’t feel they can trust Trump on policy, establishment and future-minded Republicans know that his racist appeals will destroy their future, even as more moderate, populist and ideologically flexible Republicans are turned off by Cruz’ oily cynicism and radicalism.
Even a modest drop in turnout by the GOP in blue states and districts could lead to a downballot debacle for the Republican Party, and could even cost them the majority in the House given a big enough wave. The Cook Political Report and other prognosticators have revised their house race projections to account for the Trump effect (and quite possibly for the Cruz effect as well.)
So far, the GOP has latched itself to the hope that even if it must throw away the presidency this cycle, it can count on control of the House, the Supreme Court and most legislatures. With Scalia’s passing the Supreme Court is lost given a Democratic win in 2016, the Senate will likely change hands, and their House majority seems set to shrink or even disappear. Many legislatures may also flip as well given a wave election.
Things can change, of course: an economic downturn or major terrorist attack could alter the landscape significantly. But as things stand, circumstances are ripe for a GOP debacle up and down the ballot.