There is some truth to what the Republican presidential front-runner said, but the reality is that fewer and fewer journalists subscribe to the theory that a unified anti-Trump voting bloc will emerge to prevent his nomination as the field narrows. What was once conventional wisdom now seems more like wishful thinking.
To fully appreciate the media turnaround, read this excerpt from a Sept. 2 news article:
The Donald has so far displayed an uncanny ability to ignore the laws of political gravity. He’s dabbled in racism, misogyny, and conservative apostasy this summer, and yet — despite repeated predictions to the contrary — he remains the Republican leader both nationally and in the early-nominating states. Still, the thinking goes, his abysmal favorability numbers and narrow appeal mean that he has a ceiling that will prevent him from ever garnering the type of support he’d need to be competitive in 2016.
Now read this from Monday, after Trump’s weekend win in South Carolina:
If you combine the primary votes received by the so-called “establishment lane” candidates — Rubio, Bush, John Kasich, and Chris Christie — this year, that Franken-candidate would have squeezed out a win in Iowa by 2 points over Cruz, coasted to victory in New Hampshire by nearly 10 points over Trump, and bested the field in South Carolina by more than 5 points. Even in a year defined by anti-establishment anger, there appear to be more than enough voters willing to pull the lever for an establishment-minded candidate to deny Trump or Cruz the Republican nomination.
There’s a major problem with the consolidation theory, though — and it’s not just that Kasich is still in the race. It’s that there’s no evidence that supporters will move en masse from one establishment candidate to another.
In case you haven’t figured out what I’m up to (or if you haven't clicked on the hyperlinks), here’s the big reveal: Those two passages are from the same publication (Slate) and the same writer (Josh Voorhees). Trump loves to play underdog — and he really loves to prove the media wrong — but the fact is that many in the media already have come around to the idea that he’s probably going to be the Republican nominee.
To be fair, the consolidation theory appeared sound for a long time. Trump would surely say that journalists depicted him as a flash in the pan because they’re “dishonest” people, but actually it was voters who told the media that the Manhattan billionaire would fade.
Less than a year ago, only 23 percent of Republican voters in an NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll said they could see themselves supporting Trump as the party’s nominee, while 74 percent said they could not. It seemed clear that Trump had a passionate but limited following and that the vast majority of GOP voters who just couldn’t imagine themselves backing him would eventually throw in behind someone else.
Then the voters changed their minds.
This month, the same poll found 56 percent of Republicans could see themselves supporting Trump, while just 42 percent could not. The results were even better for Trump in January.
The undeniable conclusion is that even Republicans for whom Trump is not the first choice are increasingly open to backing him, meaning it is far from certain that the people who favored Jeb Bush before he suspended his campaign on Saturday, or who prefer John Kasich or Ben Carson now, will unite behind Marco Rubio — seemingly the last hope of the “establishment.”
These days, Rubio is the one clinging to the consolidation theory, not the press. On Tuesday in Nevada, Trump acted as though the media still need to be convinced of his likely nomination, but in truth, they already are.