The headlines recently have been full of suggestions that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is solidifying his lead while the other real outsider in the race, Ben Carson, is firmly in second place — and that the political class’s favorites, including Jeb Bush, John Kasich and Marco Rubio, can’t gain traction. I don’t buy it. Republicans should not overcommit to the notion that Trump, much less Carson, are serious candidates for the Republican nomination for 2016. I’ll admit to being a little perplexed by the polls right now. When Trump entered the race, I said he would max out somewhere in the low double digits, and I am sticking with the prediction that he will end up there. I think Trump is still riding high in the polls simply because Republican voters aren’t even close to making a decision about who to vote for. And Trump has the highest name ID, has by far the most media coverage of any candidate and has tapped into a lot of anger on the right. That being said, I think Republican voters are going to revert to form by February.
So to exactly what form are Republican voters going to revert? Well, just for fun, let’s look at some of the Republicans who have actually won primaries and been elected to office in some of the key early states, and think about what similarities they might share with Trump. Last November, who did Iowans nominate to the U.S. Senate in a multi-candidate field? Joni Ernst, a farmer/veteran/state officeholder who was probably the star female candidate of 2014, who ran a great campaign appealing to core Republican values. In New Hampshire in 2010, Kelly Ayotte — who is a classic Republican stalwart — won the Republican primary and beat three other candidates (a Democrat, an independent and a Libertarian) in the general election to become senator and should be on any thinking person’s list to be vice president. Nikki Haley, who was elected governor of South Carolina in 2010, may not have been the most conservative candidate in the field, but she put together a coalition of economic conservatives, suburbanites and other traditional Republican constituencies to beat all three of her Republican challengers. While Utah isn’t an early primary state, what’s happened in the party there is illustrative. In that state in 2010, Mike Lee, one of the tea party candidates, beat incumbent Sen. Bob Bennett in the Republican primary. Lee ran as a committed conservative who would not sell out and become a Washington “RINO” (Republican in Name Only). And if we look to one of the SEC primary states, Sen. Jeff Sessions (Ala.), a former Alabama attorney general and now perhaps the most conservative member of the Senate, is a perfect example of the kind of Republican Republicans nominate in my home state.
Well, what do these candidates all have in common? They are all legitimate conservatives and ideologically committed, with well-established policy positions and strong Republican principles. None of them looks like or approaches politics in the same way as Donald Trump. Are Republicans suddenly gullible? In what universe does Donald Trump seem like any of these Republican leaders? He is a Manhattan billionaire who has no credible claim to any real Republican roots. His positions are all contrived for the day and they lack substance. He has a long history of contributing to Democratic candidates and causes. What does a RINO look like, if not that? Unless the Republican faithful have completely changed their stripes or a bunch of new voters are going to show up in the GOP primaries to elect someone like Donald Trump against a field of credentialed, serious candidates, I think it is very unlikely Trump will be our party’s nominee. Republicans are going to nominate a Republican they can count on.
Anyway, could Trump win some primaries with a plurality? That is, even with such a divided field, could he win with, say, 24 percent? Again, I think that is unlikely because of the Republican culture. The Republican front-runner may have to contend with an anti-establishment or far-right candidate, but, again, as recent history shows, at the end of the day Republicans consistently vote for good Republicans.
Does Trump have the same appeal as Mitt Romney? John McCain? George W. Bush? Of course not. But has the Republican Party become something wildly different, or has Trump momentarily tapped into a lot of angry people on the right who are dissatisfied with Republican establishment leadership and a lot of resentment and feelings of being left out among what passes for the Republican center? Again, none of that means Republican voters will ultimately nominate Trump to be the carrier of the Republican banner in 2016.
And while we are at it — and I know this post is getting a little long — I can’t imagine that Carson will win a single primary either. So far, I have completely missed what might be a plausible reason to elect Carson to be the next president of the United States. He seems like a good man and a distinguished fellow, but his appeal doesn’t satisfy Republican yearnings. Bush, Kasich and Rubio all have strong enough campaign infrastructures in place to launch respectable campaigns in January. Watch for those three to begin to outmaneuver Trump and others in the next few months. There is lots of talk about the establishment panicking, but it is way too early to panic. I will let Insiders readers know when it is time to panic.