Almost half of all Republican voters believe Donald Trump represents their best chance at winning back the presidency next November, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. They're almost certainly wrong.
Forty-seven percent of GOPers and GOP-leaning independents say that Trump is their best nominee as compared to 15 percent who named Ted Cruz and 14 percent who chose Marco Rubio. Just 8 percent said Jeb Bush gave Republicans their best chance of winning next fall, in and of itself a remarkable finding given that the former Florida governor's entire campaign was premised on the idea that he was the most electable candidate in the field. Seven percent named Ben Carson as the party's best general election candidate.
What's fascinating is that in that same Post-ABC poll there's ample evidence to suggest that Trump would be hugely problematic as the party's nominee. Hillary Clinton leads Trump 50 percent to 44 percent in a hypothetical general election matchup and almost 7 in 10 voters (68 percent) say the idea of Trump as president would make them "anxious." (Forty-nine percent say it would make them "very" anxious.) By way of comparison, 51 percent of voters say Clinton as president would make them feel anxious. Forty-four percent of Republicans say the idea of Trump as president makes them anxious; just 24 percent of Democrats say the same thing about Clinton.
Trump's problems as the Republican nominee are affirmed in lots of other fresh poll numbers. In a new NBC-Wall Street Journal poll, Trump trails Clinton by 10 points in a general election race. Clinton leads Cruz by three points while she trails Rubio by two. Almost half (47 percent) of voters in that NBC-WSJ poll have a very negative opinion of Trump. Clinton, by contrast, is viewed very negatively by 35 percent of respondents.
The disconnect between who Republican voters think their strongest nominee is and who their strongest nominee actually is (probably Rubio) is striking. And, it's yet more evidence that (1) voters believe what they want to believe, facts be damned, and (2) voters aren't strategic in the way that members of the permanent political class are.
Voters like Trump right now. A lot. That liking means they think he is the best (or close to it) in virtually every candidate quality — including electability. That reams of data suggest Trump would in fact be the weakest general election candidate (and the prospect of Trump as the nominee is already sending GOP senators and House incumbents into a panic) doesn't really matter. That's both because the average voter isn't going through every poll with a fine-toothed comb (like us) and because they hold the organizations who conduct these polls in total contempt. How do these pollsters know what the future holds, they ask. Aren't these the same people who said Trump would go nowhere?
Yes. That is us. And, it's true, that no one knows what the future holds — for Trump or any other candidate. (Side note: "Tomorrow Never Knows" is an underrated Beatles song.) But, there is lots and lots of data that has, for the past six months, consistently shown that Trump would struggle to even be competitive with Clinton in a general election and, in a worst case scenario, could badly damage the GOP's prospects downballot.
None of that matters to Republican voters right now. (Will it ever?) Trump is winning. They like winners. Winners tend to keep winning. Done and done.