No, I didn’t watch the Republican debate last night, so I’m not going to talk about that. Here is a pretty good short discussion by Josh Marshall, if you’re interested.
I thought, instead, that I would devote this post to some reassuring words about the Trump phenomenon, since so many of my friends are seriously worried by the rise of this ominous figure in American politics. There is good reason to be appalled at Trump’s success, but, while I would never counsel complacency, there is no reason for despair.
One point to keep in mind is that the polls showing Trump leading all Republican candidates for president are polls of a particular portion of the electorate. The polls seek to determine preferences among Republican voters, a category that can be defined in various ways but that certainly doesn’t exceed 45% of total voters even when Republican-leaning independents are counted in. So, with Trump now at around 35% in those polls, on the average, it means that Trump has gained his dominant position in the Republican field by winning the allegiance of only about 16% of American voters.
Of course, if nominated for president, Trump could count on a lot more than 16% of the vote, but the fact is that as far as we can tell at this point in time, he would be the GOP’s very weakest candidate for president. You wouldn’t know it from all the hoopla surrounding his candidacy, but Trump is the most unpopular politician in the country. Take a look at these favorability/unfavorabilty ratings.
Republican favorability among all voters, average since Nov. 1
Candidate Favorable Unfavorable Net Favorable
Ben Carson 37% 37% 0
Marco Rubio 34 35 -1
Ted Cruz 32 39 -7
Jeb Bush 29 51 -22
Donald Trump 33 58 -25
At a net unfavorability rating of 25%, Trump “leads” all other Republicans, none of whom, incidentally, scores better than zero. (The corresponding numbers for the Democrats put Hillary Clinton at a negative 11%–far “behind” Trump. The only candidate in the whole field to come out with a plus rating is Bernie Sanders, at +3%.)
Here’s another interesting set of numbers: Only 30% of Americans say they would be comfortable with Donald Trump in the White House; 69% say the idea makes them anxious, for a net anxiety score of 39%. None of the other leading candidates in either party inspires anything approaching the same level of anxiety as does Trump. Hillary Clinton, with all the baggage she carries, has a net anxiety score of just 5%.
You see: the American people aren’t as crazy as you might think. Lincoln, after all, knew what he was talking about:
You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”