WASHINGTON – Yes, despite the crazy things he says about immigrants, China, Mexico, and Muslims, and despite the grandiose yet content-free promise of “Making America Great”, Donald Trump is still ahead in all the polls in which likely Republican primaries voters express their preferences.
Trump is at 25%, or more
He is up there, at around 25%, or more, depending on which polls you are looking at. Alright, all this is truly remarkable. However, Trump’s popularity, while real and perhaps consequential, should not be exaggerated.
It is true that Trump’s aggressive populism, with all his promises of breaking all the crockery as soon as he gets into the White House, truly resonates with a large segment of the frustrated American conservative electorate.
Small numbers, after all
However, when we say that Trump is favored by 25% or even 30% of the probable Republican primaries voters, we are not saying much. Let’s understand that, compared to the size of the entire national electorate, these are small numbers.
As the WSJ pointed out, Republican primary voters comprise only about 16% of overall US voters. Trump is favored by 25% of them. Well, this translates into about 4% of the national electorate. Not insignificant; but these are hardly overwhelming numbers. Unless these numbers grow significantly, “Trump for President” is still mostly a dream.
Yes, Trump is consistently leading, and his supporters are steadfast. No matter what he says, Trump is still ahead. In fact, many analysts believe that he is ahead precisely because he is outrageous, and openly offensive towards the political establishment. This is his trade mark, his appeal. Fine, we understand that his (let’s say unusual) style keeps his base energized.
The open question is whether Trump will be able to build on this loyal support, now strong mainly among frustrated White, middle class, and lower middle class conservatives. For the moment, this segment of likely Republican voters is willing to bet everything on a feisty outsider, with zero political experience, who makes outlandish promises.
Can Trump build a coalition?
However, party nominations usually go to candidates who can build coalitions. Can Trump transform his skills as a deal maker into a (so far non existent) ability to reach out and appeal to diverse supporters?
Keep in mind that while a 25% or even 30% base is remarkable, this is not a majority of the Republican voters, let alone a majority of the American electorate.
Of course, the number of Republican contenders will get smaller as we move into the actual primaries season next year. As some candidates will drop out, will Trump be able to get the support of the more moderate, centrist Republican voters who favored them? If he cannot sway many of them, hard to see how he gets much beyond 25% or even 30%.
Convince the independents
That said, even assuming that Trump somehow will get the Republican nomination, will his “unconventional” style really appeal to the millions of uncommitted independents who in the end determine national elections?
Securing the strong support of a large segment of middle class, (mostly male) White voters is important. But they are not the majority of the national electorate, not even close. Without the backing of at last some women, Latinos, some Blacks, and millions of independents nobody gets elected President in America.
In the end, we know that Trump is getting a lot of attention because he is an outsider, and because he is ahead in the polls. But this level of support, and all the media buzz that it creates, while significant, is just not enough to get him into the White House.