I think Trump is done. Or as my mother-in-law would say, “Done is for meat. Trump is finished.” Everyone who said that before was wrong. But now his run is over.
Trump has been pointing to the polls for a year, but they’re no longer his friends. FOX News began to include his name among Republican candidates last March: Trump got 3%. He stayed in the single digits through June, reached over 20% by late August, and hovered in the high 20's and low 30's into December. By March he reached over 40% in every poll. He has won lots of primaries, but never gotten even half of the Republican vote.
That’s as far as he’ll get. Back in January and February, when there were more candidates, he easily had more than Cruz and Kasich combined. But since the beginning of March their total has passed his, as the supporters of the dropouts have been absorbed all around.
A nice chart by the Huffington Post combines 126 polls over 11 months to show how Trump gained favor from June to September last year, then stayed in place until February. Even at his best, 15% more people viewed him unfavorably than favorably. In the past 8 weeks that gap has been widening.
The Pew poll from just a week ago is exemplary. Voter interest and knowledge is much higher than previous presidential years: 89%% of Republican registered voters say they have given “quite a lot” of thought to the coming election. As of now, Trump wins 41%, Cruz 32%, Kasich 20%. Only 7% of Republican voters pick someone other than these three. Nearly everyone who is going to support Trump is already there.
The non-Trump voters won’t be drifting his way. His negative ratings are extraordinary. In January he was viewed negatively by 60%. Now the latest Gallup poll shows 70% of women and 58% of men have a negative view of Trump.
After prognosticators stopped predicting his imminent demise, everyone began paying more attention to him. That’s what he wanted, what he seemed best at. His candidacy is a publicist’s dream: everybody sees and hears Donald Trump everywhere. But Trump is such an egotist that he never realized the limits of his appeal, how many people don’t like the character he has been playing for decades.
The media focus on Trump now highlights the ugly and ignorant things he has been saying and doing. An ad by Our Principles PAC strung together what Trump has said about women. When Wolf Blitzer asked him about the ad, Trump said: “I think people understand. I think people, first of all half of that was show business ... Look, these politicians, I know them. They say far worse when they’re in closed doors of where they’re with a group of people that they trust. This, a lot of that is show business stuff.”
Trump hasn’t gotten out of show business. What worked on TV, attracting a large enough slice of American viewers to come back season after season, doesn’t work as politics. People do understand that “these politicians” say appalling things that we rarely hear about. That doesn’t mean they want to hear Trump say them in public.
Show business celebrities are not held accountable for their words. We give them license to act in character and make them famous for it. When Trump and I were growing up, many New York comedians cultivated an unpleasant shtick, like Don Rickles and Rodney Dangerfield, who were good at turning rude into funny. Carroll O’Connor as Archie Bunker played one of the most successful jerks on TV. But most of his dedicated viewers would not have voted for him for dogcatcher, although the fake campaign “Archie Bunker for President” in 1972 was amusing.
That’s Trump’s beef with political correctness: what he said on TV to applause attracts criticism on the campaign trail. Only in the past few months have his words been taken seriously, not as a script for our amusement, but as serious political expression. And that’s the end of Trump. Years of insulting comments about women and bragging about his sexual performance are now supplemented by blithe comments about NATO being obsolete and punishing women who have abortions.
I’m surprised that Trump has not lowered the volume of his sexist and racist rhetoric, now that he seeks more than a good Nielson rating. He might have been a more dangerous candidate if he had copied the tactics of “these politicians”, and kept his most offensive views behind closed doors. Now it’s too late. He can’t run on his past political achievements: he has none and has made that a virtue. All he can point to is this campaign, against respect for women, against non-white and non-Christian Americans, against decency and thoughtfulness.
Trump might win the Republican nomination. I make no predictions about that topsy-turvy race, where the next day’s insults are unpredictable. But he has topped out and is going down.
Early this year, Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said the plan is to “let Trump be Trump.” Now Lewandowski has been charged with assault. Trump has been assaulting the majority of the American public. On the campaign trail, that’s a losing formula.
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, April 5, 2016