Wednesday, February 24, 2016
Donald Trump carried the Nevada Republican caucus yesterday by a two-to-one margin over his nearest rival, Senator Marco Rubio. It was his third state win in a row after his narrow second-place finish in the initial Iowa caucus and strongly suggests that the most improbable presidential candidate in years is ready to “run the table” through the remaining primaries.
Trump appears ready to rewrite the rulebook of recent decades at the same time.
The Republican establishment, terrified of a Trump victory, still hopes to coalesce the anti-Trump vote around one candidate, so look for increasing pressure on Ohio Governor John Kasich in particular to drop out of the race in hopes that his voters will go to Rubio.
But those establishment hopes run aground if it’s counting on supporters of Senator Ted Cruz and Dr. Ben Carson to follow suit: Those voters would appear to have a lot more in common with the angry billionaire businessman from New York than with the sunshine candidacy of the freshman senator from Florida.
After all, it doesn’t appear from Rasmussen Reports’ latest survey of the GOP race that the departure of the establishment’s first choice, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, hurt Trump in any way.
The numbers taken just after Trump’s big win in the South Carolina primary but just before Nevada voted shows Trump picking up five points to extend his lead to 15 points over Rubio - 36% to 21% - among Republican voters nationwide. Rubio’s support didn’t move from where it was at the beginning of the month. Other than Trump, Kasich was the other big gainer, doubling his level of support to 12%.
Kasich has been looking beyond South Carolina and Nevada to the slew of states that hold primaries in the first half of next month, hoping to stem Trump’s progress there, but barring an unforeseen disaster on the New Yorker’s part, that seems unlikely. It’s perhaps a better time to begin considering the strength of a Trump/Kasich ticket with the former congressional leader helping “The Donald” calm the GOP establishment and enact his hard-charging agenda.
When Trump announced his candidacy in mid-June of last year, just 27% of Republicans said he was likely to end up as the 2016 GOP nominee. By comparison, 56% of Republicans considered Bush the likely nominee, leading the pack of GOP hopefuls.
Shortly after that as Trump began his remarkable rise in support, Rasmussen Reports initiated its weekly Trump Change survey. The most recent edition, released last Friday, found that 71% of Republicans now believe Trump is their party’s likely nominee, and that was before his victories in South Carolina and Nevada. We’ll update those numbers again on Friday.
Meanwhile, Bush has dropped out of the race.
The big-money PACs behind the Bush campaign plan to continue their primary mission of tearing Trump down and making a more acceptably “conservative” candidate like Rubio the nominee. This is indeed one of the bigger ironies of this race, that the billionaire businessman who is essentially self-financing his campaign to avoid special interest money is the target of other wealthy businessmen because he won’t play ball with their agendas.
It’s hard, too, to believe that many of Trump’s supporters - angry at the status quo and/or new to the electoral process - would switch their allegiance to a business-as-usual Republican candidate, suggesting that these big money interests are less interested in winning the election than they are in stopping Trump with his talk of a border wall and fewer giveaway international trade deals.
The national Republican party for decades now has been the nation’s conservative political party, but with the changing voter demographics in the country, many have wondered if such a party can win with an aggressively conservative agenda on social issues in particular. It’s interesting to note that while most GOP voters don’t consider Trump a conservative, exit polls in South Carolina and Nevada show him winning among conservative and evangelical voters over more overtly conservative candidates.
Trump’s likely Democratic rival for the presidency, Hillary Clinton, has had trouble so far wrapping up her party’s traditional under-40 voter constituency, one it can usually claim thanks to the GOP’s hardline on social issues. But Democrats haven’t been able to pin that tail on Trump with his “New York values.” Interestingly, our latest survey of the GOP race finds Trump running strongest among voters under 40, a potentially worrisome development for Clinton.
Democrats have other worries, too, not the least of which is the very real possibility that their nominee could be indicted for mishandling top secret intelligence information.
The more immediate question, however, has moved far beyond whether Trump can win the Republican nomination. The question now is whether he can be stopped. Voters in a number of states will make that determination in the next two-and-a-half weeks. The airwaves nationwide will be filled with vicious anti-Trump Super PAC ads, but if the past is any indication, “The Donald” will ride that opposition like a surfer who’s caught the perfect wave.
Fran Coombs is the managing editor of Rasmussen Reports.
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