Donald Trump

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Does Trump’s Negative Polling
Signal Problems for GOP?

| published April 8, 2016 |

By Keith H. Roberts, Thursday Review contributor

It is the nightmare scenario which many Republican leaders, GOP strategists, and establishment figures have worried mightily about. And it has been an open secret that they fear potential disaster in November. And no, we are not talking about a contested Republican convention this summer.

New polls conducted by the Associated Press/GfK show that more than two thirds of all Americans—roughly 70%—have an unfavorable view of Republican front-runner Donald Trump. Those numbers reflect the opinions of Republicans, Democrats and independents. And the negative views of Trump extend into virtually every demographic group: women, men, whites, blacks and Latinos, conservatives, liberals and moderates, and the young and the old.

The AP/GfK poll, which was conducted over the last five days, comes on the heels of Trump’s poor showing in Wisconsin, where he lost to his closest rival, Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Among registered Republicans, Trump still leads by a healthy margin in his home state of New York, and polls also show him with a safe—but slipping—margin in neighboring states like New Jersey and Connecticut. Cruz is attempting to close the gaps in those states before primary voters go to the polls in a few weeks.

The poll shows that Trump is viewed unfavorably by 47% of Republicans, and his deficit in the South is even worse, with some 70% of those polled saying that they do not like the billionaire.

The paradox, of course, is that Trump continues to poll well state-by-state. Trump currently leads in the delegate count, with 743 pledged delegates in his column as compared to Cruz’s 517. Ohio Governor John Kasich has roughly 144 delegates committed to his candidacy. To win on the first round of balloting, a candidate must have at least 1,237 delegates. Trump has earned the loyalty of a large segment of voters who identify as Republican, and the real estate mogul has also demonstrated skill at attracting the support of independents and some disaffected Democrats. But Trump may have also worn out his welcome, as it were, among the Republican Party’s core segments who now consider the most important factor in the nominee to be “electability,” polls by NBC and the AP confirm that many Republican voters are “worried” or “concerned” about Trump’s ability to win in November.

The Associated Press poll confirms the data found in other recent surveys, including a Bloomberg poll conducted at the end of March which said that Trump was viewed more unfavorably than even Congress, generally at the bottom of most people’s lists.

Trump, who has apparently reorganized his top staff after internal criticisms over the insular nature of his campaign, is now campaigning vigorously in New York and New Jersey in an attempt to push back against a possible surge by Cruz. Trump also hopes to smash any further hope by Kasich that the Ohio Governor might pull off a surprise win in neighboring Pennsylvania. A Kasich win there would buoy the prospects for the dark horse candidate who makes no secret of his desire to win the GOP nomination after a floor right among delegates.

The battle for the loyalty of every delegate has now become the signature element in the larger fight for the GOP nomination. Cruz has gained on Trump in part because of his campaign’s superior field organization and ground game in many states. Wisconsin, where Cruz simply out-organized Trump, was no exception. In addition to mounting a serious challenge to Trump in the northeast, Cruz is also deploying his best people and his most formidable resources to Colorado, where the state party bypassed its usual statewide “straw poll” (which was non-binding) and opted instead for a formal statewide Republican “assembly” to determine the loyalty of some 37 delegates. Observers say that Cruz has already hardwired the assembly process to his favor, and if he is able to take the lion’s share of those delegates, Trump’s challenge becomes even more difficult.

According to NBC News, for Trump to win the nomination on the first ballot in July, he would have to capture the pledges of at least 60% of all remaining delegates. Cruz would have to win the loyalty of more than 80% of those remaining. Based on the math that lies ahead in several big ticket states, it is unlikely that either candidate will achieve the goal of winning 1,237 delegates ahead of the convention in Cleveland.

Most political analysts agree that after Cruz’s major win in the Badger State, the likelihood of an “open” or brokered Republican convention increased to nearly 95%. A Cruz windfall in Colorado would tweak it even higher.

Trump has sought to stave off a floor fight by quickly bringing on board scores of experts—hired guns and new staffers schooled in the complex dark arts of delegate math, political playbooks and procedures, state guidelines and legal requirements, and the arcane but essential language of a major political party’s rules. In this arena, Cruz has clearly outperformed Trump—and, for that matter, a dozen other opponents.

But Trump has been down before. One of his formidable skills is bouncing back after adversity or self-inflicted wounds, and his followers have so far been willing to quickly forgive-and-forget when his often bellicose and bumbling language gets him into trouble. Trump also tends to perform well with voters who make up their minds at the last moment, sending thousands of votes into his column even when polls sometimes show his lead narrowing with his opponents.

For Trump’s team, however, the negative numbers may spell serious trouble over the next few weeks. The erosion in support he is seeing even among Republicans may signal difficult days ahead for the GOP, some of whose voters may already be experiencing some form of buyer’s remorse.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Cruz Cruises to Victory in Wisconsin; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; April 6, 2016.

Will the GOP Loyalty Pledge Get Shredded?; Keith H. Roberts; Thursday Review; April 1, 2016.