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Is Trump Already A Third-Party Candidate?

A Commentary by Fran Coombs

Friday, June 24, 2016

Events in recent weeks suggest that Donald Trump is already running a third-party candidacy.

While he’s captured enough delegates to win the Republican nomination through the party’s primary process, there’s reportedly a renewed effort afoot by some close to Mitt Romney to change the rules and steal the nomination from Trump at next month’s GOP national convention.

At the same time, some Republican leaders, most notably House Speaker Paul Ryan, seem more critical of Trump than of his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, even as they insist that they support the nominee. George Will, one of America’s senior conservative pundits and a longtime reliable supporter of Republican presidential candidates, just this week urged major donors not to give to Trump’s campaign to ensure the GOP nominee loses in November.

Is it any wonder then that 66% of Republicans think most of the top leaders in their party don’t want Trump to be elected president? Some probably wonder why that number isn’t even higher.

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Trump has urged these party leaders to “man up” and follow the lead of the voters who’ve chosen him. After all, Trump captured more votes in the primaries and caucuses than any Republican candidate in history. But Rasmussen Reports polling finds that 73% of Republicans believe GOP leaders have lost touch with the party’s base. Just 28% of Democrats believe that of the leaders of their party.

Only 27% of Republicans believe the political attitudes of the party’s voters match up with those of the party’s leaders.

Republicans have noted that same distance between voters and their representatives in Congress in surveys for years, but seeming electoral success has made frustration over the subsequent lack of achievement even worse.  Now though the GOP has been in charge of both the House of Representatives and the Senate for nearly a year-and-a-half, Republican voters are as contemptuous of Congress’ performance as Democrats are.

Nothing illustrates this disconnect more than the shock and awe experienced by GOP leaders as Trump continued to roll up primary victories in the face of tens of millions of dollars in negative advertising – by his fellow Republicans. His opponents complained of the millions in free advertising Trump earned in media news coverage but failed to note that most of that was negative stories that rebounded on news organizations that were just as out of touch with voter attitudes.

Voters weren’t fooled. Sixty-nine percent (69%) of Republicans and a plurality (48%) of voters not affiliated with either major party said in late May that the media is biased against Trump. Only nine percent (9%) of GOP voters and 18% of unaffiliateds believe the media is biased against Clinton.

So while Democrats appear to be on track to party unity following Clinton’s clinching of the nomination, Trump finds himself still running against Republicans who refuse to acknowledge his primary successes and want to pick their own nominee. It’s highly unlikely but not inconceivable that next month’s Republican national convention could choose a GOP nominee who is not Trump.

Much has been made of the high voter negatives both Trump and Clinton enjoy, and media speculation has run just as high for months that a major third-party candidate is coming. Now that the effort by would-be kingmaker Bill Kristol and the National Review neo-cons has flopped, Libertarian Gary Johnson, a former GOP governor of New Mexico, is the only major alternative: He captured 1% of the vote in the 2012 presidential election.

Trump is a much more realistic third-party alternative, running against both the Democratic and Republican establishments, and Clinton’s biggest worry, other than a possible federal indictment, is that many of Bernie Sanders’ voters may see him that way.

Right now, Clinton has edged ahead of Trump in our national surveying, but she hasn’t experienced any major bump from finally defeating Sanders for the Democratic nomination. Trump’s support has held steady at roughly 40% through all the bad weeks the media and some Republican leaders insist he’s having.

Clinton is a known commodity. It’s hard to imagine anything she can do or say to jump her support between now and November. Trump is the wild card, or as Peggy Noonan astutely noted, Trump is the only one who can beat Trump.

Fran Coombs is the managing editor of Rasmussen Reports.

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See Other Commentaries by Fran Coombs .

Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports. Comments about this content should be directed to the author at  fran.coombs@rasmussenreports.com.

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