by Scott Rasmussen | May 6, 2016 12:02 am
In 2008 and 2012, John McCain and Mitt Romney were not the top choice for most Republicans. Many GOP voters agonized about whether they should hold their noses and vote for a candidate they disliked. The winners of those battles warned the disenchanted voters that failure to fall in line would help the Democrats.
The same process has begun in 2016 now that Donald Trump is the party’s presumptive nominee. The same old questions are being asked about whether the party can heal its wounds and unite. However, there is one huge difference. In previous battles, the disenfranchised voters were little known members of the party base. This time the shoe is on the other foot and the party leaders are getting a taste of their own medicine.
There’s another big difference, as well. In 2008 and 2012, McCain and Romney were viewed as modest underdogs by many because the economic fundamentals favored the Democrats. Nobody expected either man to lose in a landslide. This year, though, many Republicans expect Trump could lose by 10-15 points or more. That’s amazing when you consider that the political and economic environment is much more favorable to the GOP than it was in the previous elections. It’s even more amazing when you consider that Hillary Clinton is a much weaker candidate than Barack Obama.
Still, the conventional wisdom is that Clinton should now coast to victory. Larry Sabato, one of the best analysts in the land, is already projecting that Clinton could rout Trump in the Electoral College 347 to 191.That’s bigger than Obama’s victory over Romney.
In some circles, the only reason to not totally write-off Trump’s chances in November is that six months ago, everybody wrote off his chances of winning the nomination. These skeptics reason that it’s at least possible lightning could strike again in November. In a year when voters have clearly rejected the political establishment, Trump will be running as the ultimate outsider while Clinton is the embodiment of the political class.
These perceptions matter because they will have an impact on the fall campaign.
While most GOP leaders will eventually accept the nominee, the danger for Trump is that many may offer nothing more than token support. Will a top-tier Republican sign on as his Vice-Presidential running mate? Will the party regulars who work so hard to get out the vote really work that hard this time around? Will GOP candidates on the ballot in 2016 see Trump as a plus for their campaign or develop “scheduling conflicts” every time he comes to town?
I suspect that Team Trump would say it doesn’t matter because they’ll attract plenty of new recruits who have never before voted for the party. Given all that Trump has accomplished so far, you can’t completely exclude that possibility. But it’s tough to win if you can’t get the home crowd to back you. If Republicans aren’t enthusiastic about their nominee, Republicans won’t win.
In practical terms, then, the next 30-60 days may be the most crucial phase of the campaign. During that time, Donald Trump will have to convince Republican leaders that he can be competitive in the fall. If he succeeds, he will pick up plenty of new allies. If he fails, he will be on his own.
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