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First take/variations

The Trump-less Republican presidential debate last night went not so very different from those before it, though some of the barbs aimed at the missing candidate actually rose a degree of wit.

Like the previous debates, it probably changed little as regards the standing of the candidates. A raw political calculation, Trump probably lost nothing from skipping it; his absence loomed over the proceedings, and nowhere did the lack of a Trump response somewhere probably cost him votes.

In fact, since the topics were almost all retreads of previous debates, that would be true of the other candidates as well. That’s partly true because nearly all the questions, apart from those sometimes aimed at needling specific candidates, came mostly in their comfort zone of foreign affairs (bomb ’em), immigration and taxes. Subjects that had to do with the well-being of Americans were, with rare exception, skipped by moderators and candidates alike.

That makes the Republican debates a lot different from the Democratic. But there may be some solid reasons for that, pointed to a recent (released Tuesday) ABC/Washington Post poll.

The front end of the poll was standard horse race stuff, in line with other recent polls (an indicator its results probably are in the right ballpark). Maybe the most interesting datum in that part is the 64% expectation among Republicans and Republican-leaners that Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee.

Further back in the report, there is this:

A challenge for the GOP, looking ahead, is the extent to which leaned Republicans differ from the rest of the public on many such measures. While 54 percent of leaned Republicans are looking chiefly for an outsider, among all other Americans, 75 percent prefer a candidate with experience in how the political system works. While 50 percent of leaned Republicans say immigrants mainly weaken U.S. society, 66 percent of others say they mainly strengthen it. And there’s a vast 45-point difference in views on whether the country’s on the wrong track.
Leaned Republicans also are 27 points more apt than others to see government as part of the problem; twice as likely to be angry about it; 17 points more likely to see America’s best days as behind it; and 15 points more apt to say their own values are losing ground in society today.
Economic worry is the only one of these [subject areas] in which significant differences aren’t evident. On the others, whichever Republican wins the nomination, there’ll be substantial work ahead in reconciling world views within the GOP with those beyond it.

So when you hear that “Americans” want an outsider for president, that “the country” is becoming anti-immigrant and are pessimistic about the future, remember that this represents the views of a growing majority among Republicans and Republican leaners, but not the country as a whole. As a result, once Republicans hit the general election and have to deal with the world outside their bubble, they will as the poll said face “substantial work ahead.” –rs

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