Wisconsin Could Be A Turning Point

Wisconsin Could Be A Turning Point

The Briefing, Vol. IV, Issue 14-

This week:

  • Trump is no Reagan
  • Cruz stomps in North Dakota
  • Pivotal Wisconsin race is a must-win for Cruz

This week’s GOP presidential races:

Colorado (37 delegates): District and state GOP conventions continue on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Each of the seven district conventions awards three delegates and the state convention awards the other 16. Attendees at these conventions were chosen in precinct caucuses on Super Tuesday. None of the delegates are bound by rule to vote for any particular candidate on the first ballot at the national convention.

Note: Delegates supporting Ted Cruz already won six delegate spots on Saturday in the First and Sixth District conventions.

Wisconsin (42 delegates): As in South Carolina, this contest is a winner-take-all primary by Congressional District. The candidate who wins statewide gets 18 delegates, and then victory in each congressional district is worth three more.


Trump is no Reagan: When you show Donald Trump supporters all of the evidence from polling that he will lose badly to Hillary Clinton in November, their main counterargument is that Ronald Reagan also trailed Jimmy Carter in 1980.

But this doesn’t really tell much of the story. Sure, Reagan’s campaign can be cited as evidence that a candidate who trails in some early polling is not hopeless. But there’s more than enough evidence in the data that this comparison of Reagan with Trump is completely inappropriate.

Today’s polling — all of it, not just a random poll here or there — shows that Trump would be the most unpopular person ever to receive a presidential nomination, at least since telephone polling became commonplace. Depending on which poll you consult, Trump’s national unfavorable rating is as high as 70 percent. He is viewed unfavorably by every major group — including white men (51 percent disapproval). And his negative ratings far exceed the already-high negatives of Hillary Clinton.

Compare that to Reagan’s unfavorable rating in April 1980, which was only 44 percent. That’s just five points higher than his favorables at that time, 39 percent. His minus-five net favorability was an astounding 28 points better than Trump’s is now.

Reagan had a perfectly manageable negative rating and more than enough room to grow among those who did not yet know him well. And when you look at the campaign polling from the era, it becomes clear that over the summer of 1980, Reagan took a commanding lead over Carter and never looked back, not even falling behind after the Democratic convention.

This was only possible because, unlike Trump, Reagan was not already despised by two-thirds of American voters. Can Trump come back from his high unfavorable ratings? It’s not likely. To be sure, he can probably shave off a few points, but not 20 points.

For some more historical context, consider this. In April 2012, a poll showed that Mitt Romney had a 47 percent unfavorable rating. It didn’t vary much from there throughout the campaign, and in fact the very last poll taken in the 2012 campaign season showed him with an identical 47 percent unfavorable rating.

Another argument used at times to assuage or at least offset fears about Trump’s toxic public image is that he is bringing many new voters into the party. This is true — in those states where the question has been asked, exit pollsters show Trump doing disproportionately well among first-time voters and caucus-goers.

But consider this: Trump has won just under 8 million votes, or 37 percent of the GOP primary vote so far. By the end of the process, win or lose, he will have won about 12 or 13 million votes. That’s probably less than one-fifth of what he will need just to lose by a respectable margin in November. So it would be quite wrong to pin one’s hopes on all of the new voters he’s supposedly brought into the process — perhaps a few hundred thousand at most. There will not be nearly enough of them to swing the outcome in November, especially not for a candidate who may struggle to get 40 percent of the vote without them.

Incidentally, this order-of-magnitude problem should also discourage anyone from extrapolating to November based on what Trump has been able to accomplish against expectations in the primary. In the broader universe of voters, his limitations are already showing up in the same polls that have him doing well in the primary, and they are acute.

North Dakota: The weekend convention in the Peace Garden State marked an impressive accomplishment for Cruz’s organization. Although the delegates are unbound, he succeeded in doing something very unusual when he got 18 of his own hand-picked candidates — not all of whom are completely committed to him, but all of whom are strongly anti-Trump — elected as delegates. In doing so, he displaced several of the party-preferred delegates.

In the end, Cruz appears to have the allegiance of 20 out of the 25 selected on Sunday. Two others are the governor and his wife; two are unknown in their leanings; and only one of the state’s 28 delegates has publicly said he might back Trump — although he has said only that he’s “leaning” that way.

Trump’s campaign had talked some big talk about winning several delegates, but it turned out to be just talk. His last-minute endorsement by U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., who had worked behind the scenes on his behalf, turned out to be of little value in the delegate election.

Delegate Rustling: In Tennessee on Saturday, the state Republican Party Committee selected the slate of statewide delegates going to convention. It went about as badly for Trump as it could have.

To be sure, it didn’t change how the state’s 58 delegates are bound to vote on the first two ballots at convention. That goes as 33 for Trump, 16 for Cruz, 9 for Marco Rubio.

But those being chosen now were a subset of these — the 31 who are proportionally awarded based on the statewide vote.

The delegates chosen for most of those slots on Saturday are not all real fans of Trump, and will likely abandon him immediately after the second convention ballot. They were specifically chosen against the wishes of his campaign, and the campaign’s favorite delegates were omitted. Part of the reason the state party did not do as Trump demanded was that his campaign representatives disparaged the state party and some of its officers in their behind-the-scenes talks. It is also likely that state party leaders fear what will happen to their state races

Only a handful of delegates are at stake here, but a similar story is playing out all over the country right now. In Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina, and other states where Trump won primaries, anti-Trump delegates are being chosen to represent him at convention. POLITICO estimates that at least 100 Trump-bound delegates will be hoping for the chance to vote for someone else as soon as they become unbound. And that might well be an underestimate.

How did things go so wrong? The New York Times shed some light on this in a Friday piece about Trump’s meeting with RNC Chairman Reince Priebus:

When the discussion turned to the wrangling of delegates to the party’s nominating convention in Cleveland this July — an issue that has dogged Mr. Trump and his skeletal campaign organization for months — Mr. Priebus explained that states all had different rules governing how they were selected…[W]hen Mr. Priebus explained that each campaign needed to be prepared to fight for delegates at each state’s convention, Mr. Trump turned to his aides and suggested that they had not been doing what they needed to do, the people briefed on the meeting said.

You can blame “the Establishment” all you like. You can also blame the incompetence of Trump’s organization.

But this sort of delegate-rustling would never work in a normal year with a candidate that most Republicans found acceptable.

What we’re seeing here is actually the result of Trump’s inability to unite the party. In a normal universe, it would be unthinkable that a candidate could win 18 states at this point and not have the race sewn up already. In a normal year, any wrangling for delegates at county conventions would be viewed as an exercise in futility.

Yet here we are, in a very much not-sewn-up-race. State and district and even county conventions are being contested brutally by the election losers, in the full knowledge that such maneuvering could ultimately bear fruit for them. It already has.

This all comes back to Trump’s divisive campaign. It isn’t just divisive in the sense that he is personally abrasive, but more importantly in the sense that he is the antithesis of most of what conservatism has been since Reagan. His abrasive behavior just adds to the problem he faces. That includes the recent attack on Heidi Cruz, and his studied ignorance on the abortion issue.

Colorado: Two Congressional District conventions were held Saturday. As noted above, each awarded all three of their delegates to Cruz, for a total of six. He won in the state’s most Democratic district (the first), and in its swingiest Republican district (the sixth). Unless Trump did some incredibly diligent work last month that no one knows about, it appears likely that Cruz will carry all or nearly all of Colorado’s 37 delegates when they finish awarding them this Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Wisconsin: This could be a turning point for the campaign. Cruz carried a high single-digit lead into the final weekend. Trump spent last week attacking Gov. Scott Walker (who has an 85 percent approval rating among the state’s Republicans) and saying he should have raised taxes. A mastery of local issues once again eludes him. 

Walker is campaigning for Cruz. The real question might be whether Trump can carry any of the state’s congressional districts. If the race is close enough, he might carry as many as three. But if Cruz sweeps late undecided voters and wins it going away, that becomes a much more remote possibility.

An unexpected statewide win by Trump would probably guarantee him the nomination.