How electable is Donald Trump?

I strongly recommend Sean Trende’s three-part series about the rise of Donald Trump. The series has graced the “picks” section of our main-page this week. It represents the most incisive analysis of the Trump phenomenon I’ve read. Here are the links to Part I, Part II, and Part III.

I’m going to focus on Part II — “Cruz, Trump and the Missing White Voters.” In this article, Trende makes the case that Trump is probably more electable than Ted Cruz. That case seems strong, and helps explain why some in the so-called establish favor Trump over Cruz. (I favor Cruz over Trump).

As the title of the article suggests, the key to Trende’s case is “the missing white voters” — the ones who didn’t turn out to vote for Mitt Romney (and Trende shows that this was, in fact, a problem for Romney). The premise of the Cruz campaign is that these voters will turn out for a “true, non-cartel, conservative.”

But Trende argues that the missing white voters weren’t conservative evangelicals turned off by Romney’s Mormonism or moderate past. He notes that the decline in white participation doesn’t seem to have been concentrated in Southern states with high evangelical and conservative populations. Indeed, the numbers confirm that Romney performed as well as George W. Bush among white evangelicals.

Who, then, are the missing white voters? Trende says they consist mainly of downscale, blue-collar whites from the Nixon-Perot-Huckabee-Santorum populist strain of Republicanism.

If so, then they are potential Trump voters. In fact, many of them seem to be supporting Trump right now.

This doesn’t mean they wouldn’t turn out for Cruz if he’s the nominee. However, they aren’t a natural fit for the Texas Senator. According to Trende, they aren’t all that socially conservative; they tend to favor tax hikes for the rich; they aren’t fond of free trade; and they aren’t opposed to “free stuff.”

Back to Trump. Would the support of missing white voters be sufficient to elect the tycoon? Trende doubts it. He says that Trump would also need to perform better than Republican nominees normally do with minority group members.

That’s true, I think, if the Democratic nominee can get the sort of minority turnout Barack Obama did. It’s not clear that Hillary Clinton, or any other Democrat, would accomplish this.

In any case, Trende believes that Trump could significantly outperform Mitt Romney with minorities. That’s a low bar, so I suspect Trende is right.

But would Trump get as much support from traditional conservatives and moderates as Romney did? Right now, there seem to be many in both groups who have serious reservations about him.

My guess is that during the general election campaign, Trump could alleviate the concerns of one of these groups but not both. He could select a center-right running mate (a John Kasich type) and move to the center or he could select a strong, rising conservative star and burnish his conservative credentials. Either way, he still has a problem.

I consider it more likely that Trump would move to the center on the theory that the prospect of, say, a Hillary Clinton presidency will keep conservatives in the fold. But Trump thinks brilliantly “outside the box,” so almost anything is possible.

The bottom line, I think, is that Trump is more electable than many suppose and probably more electable than Cruz. However, there’s still this sense that he would have to draw to an inside straight.


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