2016 General Election, 2016 Republicans, Trump

Does GOP Want Trump Inside the Tent Pissing Out, or Outside Pissing In?

August 10, 2015

Yes, this is another “what are the Republicans going to do about The Donald?” piece.

No, it’s not the same conclusion.

When Fox News moderator Bret Baier asked the candidates last Thursday to raise their hands if they could not commit to supporting the eventual nominee and foregoing an independent run, Trump was the lone raised hand.

When Baier followed up with the combative temporary front runner, he asked Trump if he realized this could hand the election to Hillary Clinton. Trump said he did, the crowd booed, and the show went on.

People have combed through everything that happened in the debates, but they haven’t questioned the assertion that Independent Donald puts the election on a platter for Hillary.  Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen several articles questioning if Trump is a double agent for Hillary, but few suggesting Trump could help the GOP by leaving the tent.

My original thought, back when discussion of Megyn Kelly’s orfices was not a topic and John McCain being a loser for failing to evade capture was one, was figuring not much good would result from a third party run, but maybe it wouldn’t be as lethal as assumed.

After looking at the numbers a bit, it looks like the GOP should kindly escort Mr. Trump outside the tent and tell him to piss in whichever direction he chooses.

Here’s why:

As Karl Rove likes to say, this is a center-right country.  Not too many people like Mr. Rove these days, but that doesn’t make his math wrong.  In most surveys over the past couple decades, respondents self-report about one-third moderate, a little over 40% conservative, and 20something percent liberal.

If Republicans gathered half the moderate vote, they would never lose a national election.  However, they’ve lost the popular vote in 5 of the last 6.  The only way to square the math is to conclude they’re losing moderate voters.

Unfortunately, most national polls measure by Democrat, Republican, Independent.  GOP candidates often get a decent amount of Independent voters.  The problem is while conservatives outnumber liberals (or progressives if you prefer), Democrats outnumber Republicans, so splitting the Independent vote isn’t the same as splitting moderates.

Carrying this a bit forward, most Republicans are conservative, but Democrats are generally split between liberals and moderates.

Independents are not always moderate.  They are often fairly conservative, sometimes liberal, sometimes moderate.  They aren’t necessarily refusing to register with a party because they think the parties are too extreme, they often think the major parties are too moderate or are equally messed up.

Still others almost always vote with the same party, but don’t want to self-identify with them.  Regardless of the reasoning, we’re going to concentrate more on voter ideology than how they are registered.

Jeb Bush is talking a lot about tone right now.  In particular, he’s saying Trump’s tone isn’t electable.  Generally speaking, politicians are better off worrying about how they sound than discussing the topic out loud, and this is no exception.  Jeb should probably desist ASAP.

But he’s still right.  He’s the foremost expert on tone.  In 1994, The Next Great Hope for the Bush Family ran as a “head-banging conservative” in slightly red Florida.  He lost.

Meanwhile, his semi-black sheep older brother was a more conciliatory candidate in reddish Texas.  He won.  Proving a good study, Jeb modified his speech in 1998 and was easily elected and then re-elected, all while following a mostly conservative agenda.

Critics wonder if Jeb can shake the rust off in time to find a decent tone for 2016 (a concern shared by yours truly), but the point holds, it’s not what you say, but how….

The reason tone is crucial is that most voters don’t pay close attention.  People have things like jobs and traffic and kids and elderly parents and grouchy spouses and sports and Facebook and Netflix to worry about.

Even if you spend 30-60 minutes a day keeping up on current events, it’s still really hard to know what your elected officials and candidates are really up to.

George McGovern lost 49 states.  Barack Obama was the first Democrat to win Indiana since 1964.  The gulf between their results was far greater than the ideology.

McGovern, a decorated World War II Army Air Force veteran, was considered weak and ineffectual.  Many thought Obama would be a strong leader who could reverse a negative tide and help the country recover from recession.  Tone (and a solid baritone).

A winning Republican has a tone that moderate voters can handle.  This does NOT mean they need a moderate ideology.  Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan won a combined 6 elections, 5 of them were landslides or extreme landslides.  Electoral results were similar, ideology wasn’t.

Neither they, nor Bush the Elder in 1988 were forced to sound rigidly conservative in tone.  However, in 1992, Pat Buchanan, who in many ways sounded like 2015 Trump, ran against Bush in the primary and pushed him to the populist right (important distinction; like Trump, Buchanan was a trade protectionist).

With Ross Perot already running as a 3rd Party candidate, the Bush team wanted to keep Buchanan inside the tent.  The Republican convention tacked right–in tone.

Bush wound up appeasing nobody and lost the election.  Perot was blamed by many for causing his demise.  Some claimed too many conservatives migrated to Perot, which the numbers don’t bear out, but he did also steal moderate voters, along with pushing others to Bill Clinton by double-teaming Bush with criticism.

This is the example people use to show how Trump could guarantee President Hillary.  It’s not the same.  Perot appealed to a fairly wide audience, including a fair amount of higher income, educated voters. In many respects, he ran between Bush and Clinton.

Trump is more like Buchanan with Perot’s money.  His ceiling as a Republican primary candidate is likely 25%, which translates to 10% at best in a general election.

In order to get to 10%, you still need to assume he would take a couple Democrat votes and a few moderate Independents, along with most of his support coming from the right.  It also means at least half of his primary voters would abandon the Republican Party in the general election.

So let’s cap Independent Trump at 10% (second highest 3rd Party result since 1924), with 1% coming from Hillary, 2% coming from voters who would otherwise stay home, and 7% coming from the Republican candidate.  Looking at it this way, it’s a net -6%.

Given that no GOP nominee has even managed to win by 3% in the past six elections, it would seem like Game Over.

But what if the Republican candidate won moderate voters like in 1952, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1984 and possibly 1988?

Hillary Clinton is furiously moving leftward, first to keep Elizabeth Warren on the sidelines and now to combat Bernie Sanders.  Several important components of the Obama Coalition are leftish and she needs them to turn out.

In a world where the Republican candidate sounds rigidly conservative, trying to keep the Trumpists on board, these moderates may feel more comfy with Hillary.  Surely her campaign team will tie the GOP candidate to Trump’s statements about women, Mexicans and other Latino immigrants.

Still-in-the-GOP Trump puts the nominee in a bad spot.  Do anything other than denounce Trump and lose moderates.  Go after him and lose Trump voters, while irritating regular Republicans for caving to the opponent and mainstream media pressure.  Damned either way.

Independent Trump solves the problem (which admittedly he caused in the first place) a bit.  As he leaves the tent, screaming and tweeting about the Party not being fair to him, reasonable moderate voters will not buy the idea that a Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, or Carly Fiorina is a Latino-hating misogynist.

Trump, while likely lobbing occasional grenades at the GOP, would still keep his current message of saving America from the pit of despair Obama has left it in.  Seeing as Hillary was part of Team Obama, at least a bit of his fire will sear the Democrat.

Variations of this scenario have happened a couple of times in the past.  In 1968, George Wallace ran as an outwardly racist version of Trump (for the difference between extremely politically incorrect and balls-out racist, please go to YouTube and search on George Wallace segregation).

Wallace won multiple states in the Old Confederacy which may have (and did in 1972) voted for Richard Nixon.  He also took the votes of enough diseffected Democrats in the north who opted for Nixon in ’72 to make the popular vote razor thin.

While it was a close call, Nixon did win, and it’s very possible that the more extreme Wallace helped make Nixon palatable to Democrats unexcited by Humphrey, once a rising star, but by 1968, a worn out Establishment Democrat, favored by party insiders, 8 years after losing the nomination to a charismatic younger and less accomplished senator, now under siege from the left (sound familiar?).

Not a perfect example, as Wallace was a Democrat, and would run in the 1972 Democratic primaries (until his candidacy was ended by non-lethal gunshot).  However, back in 1948, Harry Truman did have to deal with two defections from his own party.

Already expected to lose to Republican Thomas Dewey, Truman’s coffin nails were supposedly hammered by the defection of Henry Wallace (the primeval Bernie Sanders–pretend Uncle Bernie served as VP for Obama’s first term–Truman owed his existence to (justified) fears FDR would die and leave Wallace a wartime president) from the left and Strom Thurmond (the same guy who was still in the Senate in the 21st Century) from the right.

With Thurmond breaking away (Truman wasn’t even on the ballot in South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi), Democrats could add a civil rights plank to their platform (people cared about convention platforms then–Humphrey made a name for himself pushing for this addition), which helped in places like Chicago (Truman barely won IL).

Getting hit from the left (from Wallace) made Truman more palatable to voters in the (still) populist mountain states.  Believe it or not, Truman won places like Utah and Idaho.

Dewey ran not to lose, failing to take strong positions on a number of issues for fear of offending voters he could count on if he just stayed careful (sound familiar?). Freed of restraints, Truman was the more forceful, dynamic candidate.

Again, not a perfect comparison, Truman was able to say one thing from the back of his train in rural towns, another to urban audiences, lack of recording technology had its advantages, but in many ways, a 2016 Republican would have it easier than Truman or Nixon.

Most importantly, Wallace and Thurmond won actual southern electoral votes.  Trump won’t.  I can’t prove this until they start polling individual states beyond early primary/caucus locations and swing states, but my guess is Trump runs strongest in places Republicans win very easily.

Even if you figure Trump runs 15-20% in his strongest states, Republicans have won places like Idaho, Oklahoma and Alabama by 30-40 points recently.  The candidate’s national popular vote would take a hit, but it wouldn’t be costly.  Places like Montana and Alaska could get close, but probably wouldn’t go blue.

In exchange, seemingly moderate Republican candidate will have an easier time in must-win states like Colorado and Virginia, along with several states barely won in 2000 and/or not won/previously won since 1988 or 1984.

Do not pay attention to any polls over the next couple of months that show three candidate matchups, either nationally or in respective states.  None of the Republican prospects is as well defined as they will be a year from now when they are the actual nominee.

Now any candidate is not the favorite of most people surveyed.  Next August one has made it through the gauntlet.

Not all candidates are equally suited to take advantage of this possible opportunity.  We’ll get to that later as things develop.  For now, just keep in mind that like change, a Trump Party is not just danger, it’s also opportunity.

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