Donald Trump began to take off in GOP primary polls at around the time he really began cranking up the demagoguery about immigration with his suggestion that Mexican immigrants are drug dealers and “rapists.” It’s hard to know whether Trump’s rise was due to the content of his remarks or more to the media attention and notoriety that they produced, but polls did subsequently show that many GOP voters seemed to agree with him on the substance.
Previously-unreleased data from the new Washington Post/ABC News poll suggest that there may be a link in his supporters’ minds between Trump’s demagoguing about immigration and his demagoguing about Syrian refugees and Muslims. Jim Tankersley and Scott Clement have a fascinating breakdown of the new data, which is illustrated in the chart below.
Nearly half of Republican and GOP-leaning voters — 47 percent — both support the deportation of undocumented immigrants and oppose the acceptance of refugees from Syria or other conflicts in the Mideast. For shorthand purposes, let’s classify those GOP voters as Yes-Deportation-No-Refugees Republicans, or YeDeNoRe Republicans.
Donald Trump is supported by 51 percent of that class of YeDeNoRe Republicans:
Slicing the numbers another way, Tankersley and Clement note that these YeDeNoRe Republicans “account for almost three-quarters of Trump’s support.” What’s more, the data also show that those GOP voters who support deportation are overwhelmingly likely to oppose the entry of refugees. As Tankersley and Clement conclude, all this shows “how linked those issues are for Republican voters this year,” and that the two linked issues “differentiate Trump supporters from other Republicans.”
How much will this matter once the voting starts? It’s obviously very hard to know for sure, since very few voters are paying attention; and (as noted above) a lot of Trump’s support could primarily reflect media attention; and we don’t know which Republican voters will turn out in these contests. But this might be a sobering bit of data for Republicans (the phrase “immigrant/refugee group” refers to YeDeNoRe Republicans):
Establishment Republicans probably shouldn’t count on voters from the immigrant/refugee group not showing up on Election Day. Members of the group are at least as likely to be following the election “very closely” as other primary voters (44 percent compared with 36 percent of others), and they’re about as likely to say they are certain to vote.
So YeDeNoRe Republicans are following the election as closely as other voters and they say they are as likely to vote. And the poll also finds that a majority of Republicans who support deportations think Trump is the most electable Republican in a general election. In other words, they don’t appear to see these positions as compromising Trump’s electability.
All of this raises interesting questions as to what comes next. Where do the YeDeNoRe Republicans go if Trump and Ben Carson fade?
Ted Cruz appears to be positioning himself as the guy who should inherit those voters. He’s attacked Rubio as soft on “amnesty,” an area where conservatives are still suspicious of Rubio. While Rubio is chasing Cruz to the right to minimize differences between them, Cruz may now be surging in Iowa. Cruz has also come out forcefully against admitting the Syrian refugees, initially suggesting that Muslim refugees in particular should be barred. While Rubio has also opposed the Syrian refugees’ entry, he appears to have softened his stance a bit, opening the door to accepting refugee orphans and widows.
Rubio has also tiptoed around Trump’s call for closing mosques, perhaps in an effort to avoid offending Trump supporters, though he appears to have softened here, too, subsequently suggesting he might only want to increase our monitoring of all places where “people are being radicalized,” not just mosques.
It’s true that Rubio has tried to get to Cruz’s right when it comes to terrorism, blasting the Texas Senator for supporting reforms to NSA surveillance. But on balance, Cruz would seem to have a fairer claim on the YeDeNoRe Republicans than Rubio does.
Of course, it’s still early, and there’s still a lot that remains thoroughly unpredictable. We don’t know what issues will ultimately motivate these voters. We don’t know for certain that Trump will fade, though that still seems likely. However, right now, we do know that Trump seems to draw a great deal of his support from Republican voters who both favor deportations and, in the wake of the Paris attacks, oppose the entry of Syrian refugees — support that shows no immediate signs of waning even as his rhetoric veers into truly crazy and reckless territory. That alone underscores how foolish it was to imagine that the attacks were more likely to hurt Trump, by getting GOP voters to turn towards more “serious” candidates, than to make him stronger.