We are somewhere around 40 days out from the Iowa caucus and nothing in the polling indicates that most GOP voters have an interest in coming back to their senses. As Steve Benen writes at MaddowBlog, “with each passing poll, the Republican establishment quietly mutters to itself, ‘maybe the next one will be different.'”
But, so far, the only thing that appears to be changing is that the radicalized right flank of the GOP is shopping around a bit for a standard bearer, as we see from the latest Quinnipiac poll:
1. Donald Trump: 28% (up from 27% in a Quinnipiac poll a month ago)
2. Ted Cruz: 24% (up from 16%)
3. Marco Rubio: 12% (down from 17%)
4. Ben Carson: 10% (down from 16%)
5. Chris Christie: 6% (up from 2%)
Dr. Ben Carson is quickly fading as Sen. Ted Cruz is coming on strong with a gain that precisely mirrors Carson’s loses in what is likely a relatively direct transfer of support from Tea Party voters and white evangelicals.
It is true that Trump’s numbers in this poll are significantly lower than in other polls and it may therefore be an outlier, though it may also indicate real movement.
For what it’s worth, Politico recently noted that Conservative talk radio is increasingly coming to the defence of Ted Cruz as the candidate most able to compete in the general election, “pushing them to throw their valuable support behind the candidate they want to win rather than the one who assures a strong audience.”
The important number, which in relative terms is the same from poll to poll, shows how well the so called “insurgents” are doing when compared to establishment candidates. For example, in the Qunnipiac poll Trump, Cruz, and Carson combine for 62% of the Republican vote. Rubio, Christie, Bush, and John Kasich combine for 23%.
And still so many in the chattering classes insist that someone among the establishment contenders will eventually step forward to win the day. It’s as if they see what is going on now as akin to the NFL preseason when so much is said but nothing really matters until the first snap of the first regular season game.
It doesn’t quite work that way, but maybe they are right. Maybe we won’t know anything until primary season is in full swing. Maybe an establishment candidate will win in the end, but I doubt it.
The bottom line has to be that the support base of insurgent candidates is more interested in expressing their outrage at whatever outrages them than they are in ensuring a Democrat doesn’t win the White House.
Put somewhat differently, there simply isn’t enough light between the Democratic Party and the establishment wing of the Replublican Party to matter to insurgent voters, and these insurgent voters are in the majority.
That is what has changed and that’s why establishment GOP candidates can’t get any traction.
The Iowa caucus is Febrary 1st, which is when they started playing for real, but I fear the season is already over, at least as far as the Republican nomination is concerned.