Wednesday, May 4, 2016

May 04, 2016
Morning Jolt
... with Jim Geraghty
Republicans Choose to Nominate Guy Getting 41 Percent Against Clinton

Sad! Not good!
The CNN/ORC poll, completed ahead of Trump’s victory last night, found Clinton leads 54 percent to 41 percent, a 13-point edge over the New York businessman, her largest lead since last July.

Overall, voters are evenly split on their opinion of Clinton -- 49 percent see her favorably and the same share unfavorably. But a decidedly larger group (56 percent) see Trump unfavorably than see him favorably (41 percent).

Intellectual honesty requires me to point out that Hillary’s overall head-to-head strength is hiding some surprisingly soft numbers on issues:

Clinton is also more trusted than Trump on many issues voters rank as critically important, with one big exception. By a 50 percent to 45 percent margin, voters say Trump would do a better job handling the economy than Clinton would.

Clinton has the edge on a range of other issues. She is more trusted than Trump on terrorism (50 percent Clinton to 45 percent Trump), immigration (51 percent to 44 percent), health care (55 percent to 39 percent), the income gap (54 percent to 37 percent), foreign policy (61 percent to 36 percent), education (61 percent to 34 percent) and climate change (63 percent to 30 percent).

It’s fair to wonder if Trump could play his cards right, make the election a referendum on the economy -- notice the different numbers on immigration, terrorism, and foreign policy -- and make this race a lot closer than his skeptics expect. But then again, with numbers like these, any other Republican would have had a better shot of beating Hillary.

“It’s just the CNN poll!” his fans will shout. Yeah, and 20 of the past 22 polls.

Seven Key Surprises That Led Us to This Point

You may come up with your own list, but I can think of seven key moments in this past year where something unexpected happened, and Donald Trump ended up benefiting from that turn of events.

1. How likely was it that 17 Republicans would choose to run for president, creating such a logjam that they couldn’t all appear on stage at the same time? This mass delusion among long-forgotten and long-shot Republicans meant that a rising governor like Bobby Jindal would never appear on a debate stage in prime time, because the networks chose national poll standing as the criteria to appear in the 8 p.m. hour. How likely was it that experienced, accomplished conservative Republicans like Rick Perry, Scott Walker and Jindal would end up being sidelined early, while relics like George Pataki and Jim Gilmore, and retreads like Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee hung around month after month?

The cattle call created an early dynamic of Trump against the crowd; the guy known for reality television, who began the race throwing down the gauntlet by charging that Mexico was sending rapists into the United States, versus a baseball team’s worth of governors, senators and retired governors and senators, all offering more or less the traditional GOP rhetoric.

2. For at least a decade, a slew of prominent conservative voices warned their audiences about “RINOs” and sellouts and liberal candidates who only posed as conservatives when needing votes in a primary. How likely was it that these figures, who appeared to prize conservative principles and strong records for years, would suddenly welcome Trump, a longtime Democratic donor who had supported gun control, abortion on demand, higher taxes, TARP, the auto bailout, and described himself as “very liberal when it comes to healthcare”?

How likely was it that Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Ann Coulter, Sarah Palin, and Matt Drudge would not merely tolerate Trump’s previous liberal views but excuse them or conclude they were irrelevant to the 2016 discussion? How likely was it that they would look at Trump’s recent declarations that he’s pro-life and pro-gun and they would believe him?

The most common defense of Trump was that he, alone, was willing to take on the issue of illegal immigration in the bold, direct way so many Americans wanted. But these same people who declared the supremacy of this issue never seemed bothered by Trump’s past hiring of illegal immigrants, his extensive use of foreign workers, his flip-flopping on H-1B visas, and the “touchback amnesty” aspect of his plan, where illegal immigrants could apply for citizenship after they returned to their own country. If illegal immigration was such a defining issue, why did so few Trump voters want to explore these parts of Trump’s record and plan?

3. Trump’s friends in conservative media embraced him and refused to let go, even when it was clear many other conservatives found him repulsive on an ideological and character level, and when Trump did things that would embarrass any right-thinking person. Mark Levin stopped giving Trump the benefit of the doubt after the mogul started arguing that Ted Cruz was a Canadian ineligible for the presidency.

How likely was it that Trump’s friendly voices would stand steadfast and simply ignore Trump’s more ridiculous arguments, such as that the guy who rushed the stage was ISIS, that Justice Scalia was murdered, that he knew a two-year-old who instantly developed autism from a vaccine, that if elected he would “find out who really knocked down the World Trade Center,” the tweet about Heidi Cruz, or Tuesday’s accusation that Cruz’s father consorted with Lee Harvey Oswald?

4. How likely was it that the rest of the Republican field would be so focused upon attacking on each other and spend such little time and resources attacking the front-runner? Who would have figured Jeb Bush’s super PAC would choose to spend about $20 million trashing his former protégé, Marco Rubio, instead of Trump?

5. For a long time, the hope of the anti-Trump forces was that he only represented a large plurality in the party, not a majority. It was fairly clear after South Carolina that John Kasich was a niche candidate, the Republican for those who don’t like Republicans, and that he had little chance of winning outside of his home state. Yet he continued, in state after state, finishing in the low single digits, ensuring there was never a two-man race. Maybe if Kasich had dropped out earlier, Trump still would have won -- but we’ll never know, because the Ohio governor was always there to split the non-Trump vote.

6. How likely was it that the last indisputable conservative standing would be the one who had made so many enemies throughout the Republican Party? On paper, a choice between Trump and Cruz should have been a no-brainer for every Republican official.

Even Cruz’s enemies thought he was smart; Trump proved himself stunningly ill-prepared and uninterested in learning more. Cruz was indisputably conservative; Trump’s positions depend on who’s asking the questions. Cruz had fought hard fights in the courtroom and in the Senate and had the scars to prove it; Trump spent the past decade hosting a reality show. Cruz polls better than Trump when matched against Hillary. Cruz never said nice things about Vladimir Putin.

But ultimately, when it came down to Trump and Cruz, most of Cruz’s colleagues sat on their hands. Clearly, many GOP members of Congress loathe him, either for his efforts during the government shutdown or for what they see as a selfish, grandstanding, condescending personality.

This dynamic makes both Cruz and his colleagues look bad. Ted Cruz had the worst awareness of his own standing with his colleagues since Jon Snow managed the Night Watch. A common reality-show contestant slogan is, “I’m not here to make friends.” Well, sometimes you should try. A lot of politics is about coalition-building, and every leader needs allies. People are less inclined to follow you if they don’t trust you and like you. You’re in this together; you might as well try to minimize antagonism, and that includes all I’m-the-only-man-in-Washington-you-can-trust poses.

But Cruz’s congressional colleagues look petty by putting past disputes and personal pique first at this moment when the stakes are so high. Unless congressional Republicans are as shamelessly opportunistic and ideologically flexible as Trump -- not as unlikely as it once seemed -- they should see a Cruz presidency as more productive and better than a Trump one. Yet they’re more willing to roll the dice on Trump -- and seemingly more comfortable with the prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency than a Cruz one.

7. Those of us who don’t like Trump did our part; we voted for somebody else. But ultimately, we couldn’t unite around one alternative. The good news for the #NeverTrump movement is that entering Indiana, 16 million Republicans wanted someone besides Trump. The bad news is, they were split among candidates -- mostly Cruz, Rubio, and Kasich -- and 10 million Republicans wanted Trump.

I’m Getting Tired of Crazy People. They’re Probably Tired of Me, Too.

Speaking of Kasich, here’s how the memo from his Chief Strategist John Weaver last night began:

TO: Interested Parties
FROM: John Weaver, Chief Strategist
RE: What’s Next

Tonight’s results are not going to alter Gov. Kasich’s campaign plans. Our strategy has been and continues to be one that involves winning the nomination at an open convention. The comments from Trump, on the verge of winning in Indiana, heighten the differences between Governor Kasich and his positive, inclusive approach and the disrespectful ramblings from Donald Trump.

I feel like politics is spending more and more time with delusional people, trying to reconnect them to reality. The guy in second place, way ahead of Kasich, just dropped out, Kasich is still behind Marco Rubio, who dropped out more than six weeks ago, in delegates, and this guy is still talking about being picked in an open convention.

Here’s our Alexis Levinson, throwing cold water on him:

Even Kasich’s allies acknowledge that the path is a narrow one. At the Republican National Committee meeting in Florida last month, Matt Borges, the Ohio GOP chairman and a staunch Kasich backer, described their pitch to RNC members as “esoteric” because it depended on the premise that the race would not only go to a contested convention, but that it would take three or four ballots to decide the nominee. If Trump didn’t lock it up on the first, and Cruz didn’t lock it up on the second, Kasich’s moment would come. With Cruz out and Trump on a glide path to 1237 delegates, that moment looks more and more remote.

But there’s another problem: money. Kasich’s campaign ended March with only $1.2 million cash on hand. His Super PAC, New Day for America, ended March with about the same sum in the bank. Resources have been a problem for Kasich all along -- even as the field dwindled, money never coalesced behind him. To have even a chance at stopping Trump, with the newfound momentum that comes with a string of wins and the title of “presumptive nominee,” Kasich would need a lot of money. And it seems unlikely he’s going to get it.

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