While the rise of Trump tends to dominate the headlines, polls like these from The Post and the Times provide a reminder of the big picture here for the Republican Party. And that big picture is simple: The GOP establishment is on the run, and there are few signs that its members have any sort of coherent strategy to deal with the massive uprising within its ranks.
It's not only that 53 percent of Republican voters (in the Post poll) or 50 percent of GOP voters (in the Times poll) say they are for either Trump or Carson. It's also how few Republican respondents in those same surveys say they are for the establishment choices. Jeb Bush, the man everyone assumed would be the race's front-runner, clocks in at 8 percent in the Post poll and 6 percent (!) in the Times poll. Scott Walker, the guy who was supposed to challenge Bush for the top spot, takes 2 percent in both the Times and Post polls. Two.
The trend line for those establishment picks is even more troubling. Back in March, Bush clocked in at 21 percent in the Post-ABC poll, while Walker took 13 percent. Both men have collapsed as Trump and Carson have soared.
And it's not just in the ballot test where the GOP establishment's problems are on display. Almost three in four people in the Post poll say that most politicians cannot be trusted — including almost half (48 percent) who feel that way strongly. Two-thirds say the U.S. political system is "dysfunctional" — again with nearly half (46 percent) feeling that way strongly.
There's also evidence outside of the presidential primary of the upheaval within the Republican Party at the moment. The House Freedom Caucus, which is essentially the tea party movement in Congress, has made clear that it is ready to make a real attempt to overthrow Speaker John Boehner if it doesn't get what it wants in this legislative session — most especially on stripping all federal funds to Planned Parenthood in the upcoming shutdown debate.
As Politico's Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan wrote of Boehner this month:
Figures in his close-knit circle of allies are starting to privately wonder whether he can survive an all-but-certain floor vote this fall to remain speaker of the House. And, for the first time, many top aides and lawmakers in the House do not believe he will run for another term as House leader in 2017.The Boehner era might be coming to an end, they say.
There's a tendency in official (read: political) Washington to dismiss the threat posed to the likes of Bush and Boehner by people like Trump. That dismissiveness is born of a belief that that GOP electorate will, eventually, wise up and realize that Donald Trump or Ben Carson is not the party's strongest candidate to take down Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Recent history would seem to affirm that confidence. Mitt Romney — not Herman Cain or Michele Bachmann — was the Republican presidential nominee in 2012. John Boehner — not Steve King or Louie Gohmert — has been speaker since Republicans took control of the House in 2010. Mitch McConnell — not Ted Cruz — is the Senate majority leader.
But if Trump's rise — and his ability to sustain it — has taught me anything, it's that recent history (or even less-recent history) is an imperfect guide to the future in an age of anger and anxiety in the electorate that we've not seen in decades (if ever). Things I thought I knew as facts about how politics and campaigns work have been upended by Trump and the anti-everything sentiment he has tapped into.
I'm not the only one. It's clear that Jeb Bush had zero interest in engaging Trump in any way, shape or form — assuming/hoping that the real estate star would flame out on his own. But despite some gaffes that would kill most candidacies, Trump has maintained his position at the top of primary polls, forcing Jeb into the uncomfortable spot of trying to fight with someone who doesn't play by any rules.
It's possible, of course, that by the time voters actually vote in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina in February and beyond, the "normal" order will be restored. Republican voters will have vented their anger and started to think more with their heads and less with their hearts.
For the GOP establishment, the best they can do is wait and hope that such a transformation takes place. That's not exactly operating from a position of political strength.