Isn’t it ironic? Every time I try to take Donald Trump seriously as a threat to win the White House, various Republicans raise their voices to argue precisely the opposite.
For instance, there’s Jay Cost, a numbers-cruncher for the conservative Weekly Standard magazine, who says in a new podcast that “if Donald Trump is the nominee, Hillary Clinton’s floor in the Electoral College is 400 votes (out of 538). That’s the floor, number one. Number two, kiss the Senate goodbye …. This guy is an abject disaster for the Republican Party in November.”
For instance, there’s Dan McLaughlin, a stat guy at the conservative Red State website, who says “there are hard limits on the general-election appeal of a candidate who is boorish towards women, who has gone out of his way to offend non-white voters, who is running a proudly ignorant campaign based on what amounts to class war against anyone with an education, who consistently draws the opposition of around two-thirds of the party in his own primaries …. If Trump is the GOP nominee this fall, the rational response is to get as far away from his campaign as you can.”
And most importantly — and most timely — there’s Ed Rogers. He’s a veteran Republican strategist who loathes Barack Obama’s presidency in the usual Republican ways. But he’s clear-eyed about Trump. He hastens to remind us that, earlier this week, Trump suffered “an under-reported humiliation … a clear signal of what a lot of Republican voters really think of him.”
He’s referring to the Utah primary, where Trump got only 14 percent of the votes, finishing 55 points behind Ted Cruz. This story was indeed under-reported, because why should we care about Utah? Well, here’s why: Because the Mormons who dominated that primary are usually the most reliable of all Republican voters — and yet, they detest the Republican frontrunner. They detest him so much that Utah, typically one of the reddest states in the nation, is threatening to go blue in November — something that hasn’t happened since 1964. Which is an ill portent for the GOP.
Granted, Mormons are atypical Republicans in many ways. Their church doctrine, which they take seriously, formally opposes “any type of unclean or vulgar language and behavior.” Which means that Trump and his potty mouth are beyond the pale — as is his character. In the words of former Utah governor Mike Leavitt, a lifelong Republican, “Utah voters are not comfortable with [his] demeanor. There’s a big chunk of the Utah population that would rather vote for a Democrat.”
Mormons are also atypical Republicans on the immigration issue. Their ancestors were barred from many communities because of their religion. So they’re particularly repulsed by Trump’s build-a-wall rhetoric and his broadscale attacks on Muslims. And studies show that Mormons, in general, are more highly educated than average Republican voters; Trump does best with the ill-educated, those with a high school degree or less (big surprise).
Nevetheless, as Republican strategist Rogers points out, Mormons are “a good focus group for the GOP. Suppose we wanted to ask a group of wholesome, earnest, decent, patriotic, spiritual, hard-working people what they really thought of Trump. Well, there [is] no better representation.”
And if Trump is the nominee, he can ill afford to lose any subgroup within the Republican base. Indeed, what’s most important about the Mormons is that they may well be the point of the spear. As they go, so may others.
Take women, for example. Republican presidential candidates have lost the majority of female voters in every election since 1992. But this time, the gender gap could be a chasm. The most stunning stat in the latest bipartisan NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll is that 47 percent of Republican women don’t see themselves voting for Trump. That’s a prescription for disaster in the populous suburbs of the big electoral states. Like Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania hasn’t gone red since 1988, in part because Republican women in the populous, pivotal Philadelphia suburbs have come to view the GOP as anathema. Which brings us back to Jay Cost’s podcast: “I live in Butler County [in western PA], which has been voting Republican since 1856, and [Trump] is going to get killed in Butler County. He is going to get killed in the Cranberry Township suburbs in Butler County. Because people are going to look at him and they are going to think, ‘No way.’ You watch, suburban women in Cranberry Township are going to bolt in droves …. Replicate that times 100 in the Philadelphia suburbs. It’s going to be an absolute slaughter.”
Would Trump have time, between now and November, to staunch these defections? Theoretically. Problem is, he’s a prisoner of his character. If there’s anything that unites Mormons and Republican women, and reinforces their hostility to Trump, it’s the juvenile stuff he keeps doing. Like his war this week against Ted Cruz’s wife, boasting on Twitter that his own wife is hotter (“The images are worth a thousand words”).
So if Republicans like Ed Rogers are right, Trump could wind up this fall on the losing end of a landslide, retaining only a motley minority of voters (the ill-educated, ticked off downscale white guys, people with the brainpower of Internet trolls). For now,, Rogers is buoyed by the hope that the verdict in Utah is prologue: “Maybe the Utah voters are a representative sample that suggests good people everywhere can see the light, come together and stop the evil force that is Trump. Or maybe not.”
Note his coda. I certainly have.