Election 2020

End of the Line for the 'Never-Trump' Brigade?

(AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Nate Silver, whose predictions for the 2012 presidential race turned out to be spot-on, has some bad news for the Trump-bashers:

Donald Trump has had a good run of numbers lately. While his victory in New York this week was expected, he got 60 percent of the vote, more than the roughly 55 percent projected by the polls. He appears headed for victories in Maryland and Pennsylvania, which vote on Tuesday. He’s gained ground in California and is narrowly ahead of Ted Cruz in the first public polls of Indiana. He’s added about 2 percentage points over the past two weeks in our national polling average.

You could push back against some of these details. Some of the California polls come from pollsters that have had a Trump-leaning house effect or that used an unorthodox methodology. The Indiana polls have Trump leading, but with only about 39 percent of the vote, which might not be enough if the rest of the vote consolidates behind Cruz. The national poll gains are small and may just be statistical noise.

But with Trump’s path to 1,237 delegates on such a knife’s edge, every percentage point matters. And it’s possible that Trump has moved a few voters into his column with a series of process arguments that he’s been pressing recently. The more restrained version, as you can see in a recent op-ed published under Trump’s name in The Wall Street Journal, is that the candidate who gets the most votes should be the Republican nominee — that delegates shouldn’t upend the people’s verdict. In public speeches, Trump has taken the argument a step further, describing the GOP’s nomination process as “rigged” and “crooked.”

Polling suggests that a majority of Republicans agree with at least the milder version of Trump’s argument…

It’s still surprising to me that the “movement conservative” Right — which seems largely to consist of folks who came to maturity during the glory days of the Reagan Revolution and thought they hit a triple — can neither fathom Trump’s appeal nor understand why their technical arguments bounce harmlessly off the rampaging monster from Queens.

It also helps that Trump’s system-is-rigged message is relatively simple and plays into the media’s master narrative of the Republican race as a conflict between the Republican base and the GOP “establishment.” The Republicans’ delegate selection rules, by contrast, require an attention to detail that narrative-driven stories about the Republican race can misconstrue…

It’s true that most delegates become free agents on the second ballot — and more still on the third and fourth ballots — and that Trump hasn’t done a good job in delegate-selection conventions held by state and local Republican parties.7 But that won’t matter if Trump has enough support on the first ballot, which he can still get if he finishes strongly in states such as California and Indiana. The process is still in Republican voters’ hands, and Trump may have found an argument that can get him over the finish line.

In a recent CNBC column, Larry Kudlow makes some similar points:

Donald Trump‘s landslide victory in the New York GOP primary was a game-changer. It ended his Wisconsin slump and set the stage for an across-the-board sweep on Tuesday in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. Trump’s vote count exceeded his pre-primary polling average by nearly 10 percentage points. Perhaps most important, the win gave him 89 more delegates for the RNC July convention. So Trump is now the prohibitive favorite to win the GOP nomination, although there is still much dispute about this. But I believe, even if he comes up short of a majority 1,237 delegates, he will still get a first-ballot victory. There will be roughly 190 uncommitted delegates at the Cleveland convention. And Trump, with his art of the deal, can be very persuasive.

But what hasn’t gotten enough attention following New York is how Trump did it, and how it will enhance his position in the rest of the primaries. My theory is this: Trump cleverly turned the tables againstTed Cruz in regard to the nationwide delegate fight, especially in Colorado. Trump outflanked Cruz. By calling the delegate-selection process “rigged,” and arguing that Colorado had an election without voters, Trump turned a loss into a victory. Why? Because he put Cruz in the unenviable position of defending the status quo delegate-selection process.

Now, Cruz played by the rules in Colorado and elsewhere. And Trump was caught flat-footed, and to some extent was embarrassed by his own weak delegate-gathering team. However, and this is the key point, Cruz argued time and again that the rules were the rules and that he simply played by them. And as Trump continuously attacked the RNC rules as being undemocratic, disenfranchising to voters, and creatures of out-of-touch Republican-party regulars, he put Cruz in the position of backing the establishment. A bad place for Cruz.

In very clear terms, Trump connected Cruz with exactly those establishmentarian elites who have bred so much anger and resentment in Republicans everywhere. Trump completely outflanked Cruz while turning a process issue into a policy issue.

It really is as simple as that. So all the howling about Trump’s “lies,” inconsistencies, bluster, rambling braggadoccio and general policy incoherence don’t amount to a hill of beans in the crazy world the GOP establishment has called into being. Trump’s a creature of their own making, the anti-McCain/Romney and no matter what happens in November, there’s no good outcome for the Grand Old Party.