October 15, 2015
Remember when pundits were saying the fixation with outsider candidates, especially those who never held elective office, would wane as we got in to fall?
Remember how Donald Trump and Ben Carson were going to fade after their poor showings in the last debate?
Well, it’s not voting time yet, and normal habits could start kicking in at any time, but take a look at the polls released over the past few days:
South Carolina (CNN)
Group 2: 66%
Group 1: 18%
Group 2: 72%
Group 1: 15%
Group 2: 62%
Group 1: 19%
Group 2: 62%
Group 1: 21%
Group 2: 67%
Group 1: 23%
Group 2: 58%
Group 1: 29%
Group 2: 63%
Group 1: 19%
In case you were curious, Group 2 is the big outsider pack of Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina and Ted Cruz.
Group 1 is Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, John Kasich and Chris Christie, the most credible establishment-friendly choices.
Given that Rubio is a freshman senator who received Tea Party backing when challenging establishment favorite Charlie Crist in 2010, we’re stretching the traditional definition of an establishment candidate. Big GOP donor money is conspicuously absent from the Rubio treasury.
Of the Group 1 support, almost half is Rubio’s. In a few polls, Bush, Kasich and Christie fail to reach double-digits. Combined.
We’re also ignoring Mike Huckabee and Rand Paul. They don’t have a ton of support, in most cases, somewhere between 5 and 8 percent as a duo. Under normal circumstances, these are outsiderish too. Nobody talks about them as insider candidates (or would if anybody was talking about them).
In August, after the first debate, many people noticed Group 2 was getting dangerously close to 50% in many polls. That was already worthy of many an opinion piece.
It was more than normal, especially considering 80-90% came from Trump, Carson and Fiorina who have run for office a combined once and posted zero electoral wins.
Still early, and not completely unprecedented. In 2000, the dream team of Steve Forbes, Alan Keyes and Gary Bauer cleared the 50% mark in the Iowa caucuses.
So it was possible the support could at least hold up until Iowa, and many saw one of that group as a finalist if not a plausible nominee.
The assumption was that once the race narrows, the leading establishment-approved candidate could out-point them.
Then we reached September, and as the second debate approached, Group 2 started sniffing the 60% barrier. It didn’t happen regularly, but the average reached the mid-upper 50s.
People noticed, but still referred to this as at least half, a little more than half, etc. With half of the Group 2 total coming from Peak Trump, it was easy to dismiss as part of a temporary dislocation.
After the second debate, Group 1 made a slight amount of progress, mostly due to Rubio. Group 2 seemed to stall out, with a cap of 62% and a normal result of 55-57%. Fiorina picked up after the debate, but Trump and to a lesser extent Carson and Cruz slipped.
Then the House blew up. For all the gnashing about how this might look bad, GOP voters appear strongly on the side of the Freedom Caucus. Cruz, the candidate most closely tied to the ruckus, has seen his support approximately double over the past two weeks.
Trump started moving upward for the first time since the last debate, back in to the mid-20s nationally and over 30% in selected states. Carson is back to his pre-debate position and is running ahead in some polls.
Fiorina lost some of her debate bump, but is still ahead of her pre-debate numbers nationally and well ahead in favorable states.
As we saw above, the group reached 72% in Nevada, 67% in Pennsylvania and 66% in South Carolina. In Nevada, Group 2 has almost 5 times the support of Group 1.
It’s time to re-examine the idea that narrowing down in March to a single insider-approved candidate will do the trick. That may still work, but current numbers indicate it would require several outsiders staying in and dividing support.
At the moment, GOP voters are in the mood to double-down, as are their counterparts on the Democratic side. If you saw the show or read reports on the Dem debate, you noticed all non-Webb candidates are running well to the left of the current administration.
The administration of Barack Obama, at a minimum the most progressive president since LBJ. Should Joe Biden ever enter the race, he’ll be the conservative choice.
The national ideological divide isn’t a new thing, having become noticeable during the very early 2000s. However, the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections and 2002 midterms were close. At the time, both sides accepted a 50/50 electorate and just wanted to win.
Then Democrats won a landslide 2006 midterm and a dominating 2008 presidential election. But Republicans took those gains back and then some in 2010 and 2014, with an Obama re-election in the middle.
Each side has multiple data points which indicate their side is the clear majority. With Bernie Sanders and his new policy twin Hillary Clinton sailing due west and hoping the Earth isn’t flat, GOP voters aren’t in the mood to compromise.
Recent head-to-head polling shows Trump and Fiorina beating Clinton, Carson beating her by more. Even though Bernie’s polling is a little more favorable, you can’t convince a GOP voter he’s electable. After all, Anderson Cooper and Hillary questioned it themselves.
Meanwhle, Democrats can’t imagine President Cruz, President Fiorina, President Carson or President Trump exist in any universe besides their worst, most implausible nightmare.
So what we have here is a colossal game of chicken where each side thinks the other has voluntarily abandoned the playing field making it possible to win without a compromise candidate.
The only difference is the Democrats have an establishment front-runner beginning to duplicate the platform of a democratic socialist (as she still ostensibly supports capitalism), while on the Republican side there is still a divide.
Hillary, at least for now, has the permission of her side, be they regular voters, donors, or party bigwigs to shape shift as needed. Jeb Bush most certainly does not.
Rubio is still viewed with suspicion by many due to his attempt at immigration reform. As he hangs out, Tea Party partisans and several popular conservative commentators (Sean Hannity for example) have decided Paul Ryan just won’t do as the new speaker.
Given the relative struggles of Ryan and Rubio, two of the more popular young conservatives in GOP history as recently as last election cycle, it’s clear Republicans truly are attempting to eat their own.
Ted Cruz is looking more and more like a coldly logical, reasoned strategist each day. It’s been a very good two weeks for the Texas senator who acts apart from his colleagues.