Dear Nate Silver: The Media (and the GOP) Should Absolutely Be ‘Freaking Out’ About Trump’s Poll Numbers
Liberal Media darling and alleged prediction guru Nate Silver says that everyone in the media should just calm down and stop “freaking out” about Donald Trump’s amazing poll numbers. He insists that almost no voters have actually made up their mind yet and that there is still only a minuscule chance of Trump stealing the GOP nomination and changing our politics forever (not to mention also virtually insuring the election of Hillary Clinton).
Silver is mostly wrong about Trump’s chances of winning the nomination, but more importantly he discounts the very real impact that Trump will have on the ultimate outcome of the election even if he is simply able to remain viable all the way to the GOP convention, which I now believe is at least likely, if not a near certainty.
Let me make clear that Silver and I have a bit of a history. I view him a liberal activist with a vastly overrated record of political predictions that he makes with a method where he can’t ever be revealed as “wrong,” and which are based mostly on the work of others. But that has nothing to do with this, my position on his extreme Trump skepticism (other than, unlike much of the gullible news media, I know there is no “magic” in Silver’s numerical hocus pocus).
It should also be noted that, while I like him a lot personally, I have been extremely critical of Trump as a candidate because I see no reasonable chance of him beating Hillary Clinton in a general election (in honor of Silver’s bogus modus operandi, I’ll peg it at exactly 8%). So as a Trump-detractor who, unlike almost all other conservative commentators, has an excellent history of presidential predictions, I come at this topic from a distinctive perspective.
The basic premise behind Silver’s argument is that, despite months of polling data strongly suggesting otherwise, Trump doesn’t “own” his 20-35% of the GOP electorate and that, even if he does, this won’t be enough for him to be the definitive factor in the race. Silver is wrong on both of these counts.
First, where is the evidence that Trump’s support is “soft”? Not only has his 20-35% remained remarkably consistent in both state and national polls for a incredible amount of time (actually rebounding to sometimes even higher levels after slight declines), but it has withstood numerous episodes which would have easily knocked a normal Republican totally out of the race.
One of the reasons that so-called “experts” like Frank Luntz were so wrong when they dug Trump’s grave after the first debate is they don’t understand why he is different. Because of his unique persona/celebrity and decidedly un-conservative history, he has almost complete immunity from all of the typical political “viruses” which can easily bring down normal GOP candidates.
With Trump, almost all the “bad” stuff is already baked into the cake. His supporters are not going to suddenly turn on him because he comes out strongly in favor of water-boarding, or misremembers how many American Muslims celebrated 9/11. They also won’t believe anything negative the mainstream media says about him because the conservative media has already largely backed him.
The record television ratings of the debates and of his individual appearances, along with his extraordinary crowds throughout the country, show that this is not a situation remotely analogous to past GOP frontrunners who have faded fast once the actual voting began. Because there is, for better or worse, no one else anything like him, his supporters are simply not going anywhere else (unless he is revealed to be just a magician with no real magic; more on that momentarily). In short, once you have had Trump, you can never go back to a normal politician.
One of the many things Silver fails to consider (as liberals often to do), is what possible alternative scenario exists which would see Trump become irrelevant to this race? An outcome may seem unlikely in the abstract, but there must be something viable with which to replace it for that original result to not happen.
Because there are so many horses in this race, none of the “third tier” can possibly get enough oxygen or a path through the herd in order to even be relevant. They could almost literally light themselves on fire and the only thing the press would report is how Trump tweeted about it. There will be no Rick Santorum coming out of no where to shock us in Iowa like he did in 2012.
This leaves the second tier, which I consider to be Bush, Fiorina, Christie and Paul.
What is the argument that Jeb Bush suddenly catches fire? That the GOP base just doesn’t know who he is? That he changes his last name? That Republican voters suddenly decide that the best way to contrast a Clinton is with a Bush? Please. Jeb’s only significant role in this race is whether he will drop out soon enough for Marco Rubio to be able to make a legitimate challenge to Trump.
Carly Fiorina has already had her mini bump after the media declared her the “winner” of a couple of debates and then GOP voters remembered, “ Oh yeah, she’s the one who got fired from her only real job and crushed by Barbara Boxer, never mind.” Once an underdog has his/her “moment” and then fades, there is no coming back, especially in a crowded race.
There seems to be some media sentiment for Chris Christie to make a run because his style is similar to Trump’s, but with more traditional substance to it. I can at least see the argument there. But nothing is ever going to erase the images in the minds of GOP voters of Christie “embracing” President Barack Obama after Hurricane Sandy and, even worse, Jerry Jones during last year’s NFL playoffs. He can’t get enough traction to make a serious bid in Iowa (he’s at 2 percent there) and unless Trump is somehow derailed before New Hampshire, Christie’s campaign will end there.
Rand Paul tried (smartly) to build a bridge between his father’s libertarian support and the broader Republican Party, but he ended up pleasing almost no one and Trump viciously diminished him. He is currently tied in Iowa (where his father almost won in 2012 and where he must make a big statement) at 5%, with a guy who just dropped out.
That latest Iowa poll makes it exceedingly clear that with only two debates and two very slow news months before the caucuses, barring some huge unforeseen event, it is a four man race there between Trump, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson and Marco Rubio.
It is my very strong view that the only logical scenario where Trump fades out as Silver suggests that he will is if his aura of invincibility and reputation as a “winner” are shattered by a clear loss in Iowa. Anything less than that and I believe he then wins New Hampshire and is able to ride his wave, as at least a viable candidate, all the way to the end.
However, because each of the presumptive “Final Four” fills a fairly distinctive space within the GOP base and because each will dominate the self-fulfilling media coverage between now and then, it is very difficult to see how any of the other three (with the possible exception of Cruz) pulls far enough ahead in Iowa to completely expose Trump as “magic-less.”
This leads me to the second part of Silver’s failed equation. Even if Trump doesn’t win the nomination, barring a horrible performance in Iowa, his influence on the primary process is virtually assured to be both dramatic and catastrophic.
I have spent hours with RealClearPolitics interactive delegate predictor going through every reasonable scenario based on the race’s current trajectory. The largest variables are when Jeb Bush finally gives up and whether Ben Carson’s balloon slowly loses air (as I previously predicted it would in these pages) or pops all together. Assuming Bush gets out before being humiliated in Florida and Carson remains viable throughout, there is simply no way, with Trump hanging on to his current base of support, that anyone runs away with the nomination.
Trump simply takes too much of the support that Cruz would need to do so, and the “establishment” vote isn’t large enough for Rubio to get the margins he would need in a four-person race to clinch the nomination before the convention. This means that, at the very least, Trump would be by far the most significant power broker (especially with the news media obsessing over his every move) at what would effectively be a “brokered” convention. He might even be able to blackmail the convention into nominating a Trump/Cruz ticket (though Cruz is suddenly showing signs he might not be interested in that), or see certain defeat as he threatens to tell his portion of the base to stay home, or worse.
All of this is why it is so important for real conservatives to knock out Trump in Iowa before this remarkable rocket ship he has built has a chance to get fully off the ground. If that is to happen, the time to “freak out” is clearly right now. In fact, it might already be too late.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.