fb-pixel Skip to main content

Trump’s appeal to moderate Republicans

<?EM-dummyText [Drophead goes here] ?>

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump spoke at a event in Des Moines, Iowa, on Thursday.Andrew Harnik

It increasingly appears that a healthy number of establishment Republicans have decided that they'd rather fight the 2016 election with Donald Trump as their standard bearer than Ted Cruz.

As I wrote last week, part of the reason is that Cruz is such a profoundly unlikable person. Others are fearful of emboldening the GOP's far right with a Cruz nomination. And there are even some who think that Trump would be a better general-election candidate than Cruz. He can appeal to moderates because he's nonideological, and, since he's a perennial shape-shifter, he can move to the political center if necessary. Or so the argument goes.


Charlie Dent, a moderate Republican from Pennsylvania, summed up well this emerging view among Republicans in an interview with The New York Times. "Ted Cruz is a rigid ideologue. Donald Trump is ideologically scattered and malleable." In Dent's view, "a more rigid ideology would have a much harder time assembling a winning general election coalition than the less doctrinaire candidate."

Some even suggest that Trump could do well with black voters and might not do as badly with Hispanics.

Don't believe a word of it. Trump would be a disaster for the Republican Party — both on the presidential level and down-ballot. Quite simply, the potential for a full-scale blood bath with Trump at the head of the ticket is far greater than if Cruz is the Republican nominee.

There's some pretty straightforward data that backs up the point.

First, Trump is by far the most unpopular Republican among Democrats and independents. In the latter group, Trump has a net minus-27 favorability. Only one other Republican is even in double digits — Jeb Bush. Ted Cruz is a net minus-3. Among Democrats, Trump is a net minus-70, which is 33 points worse than Cruz — and that's with Trump being almost universally well-known among Democrats. Trump's favorabilities among Dems are basically unchanged from when he announced his entry into the race last summer.


Trump isn't even all that popular among Republicans. According to Gallup, which tracks candidate favorability, he's only a net plus-27 among Republicans and Republican leaners. Ted Cruz, for his unlikability among the GOP establishment had, until recently, some of the highest net favorabilities among Republicans of any candidate running for president, though in recent weeks he's slipped to plus-32.

According to the YouGov poll, the numbers aren't much better for Trump. While 30 percent of all votes hold a very unfavorable view of Cruz, it's 46 percent for Trump. Moreover, while 49 percent of Dems, 28 percent of independents and 10 percent of Republicans hold very unfavorable views of Cruz; Trump's very unfavorable numbers among the same three groups are 72 percent, 44 percent, and 20 percent, respectively.

Then there are Trump's problems with specific demographic groups. After the 2012 election, Republican leaders concluded that in order to win another presidential election, the GOP must find a way to appeal to Hispanic voters.

According to the most recent Latino Decisions poll of Hispanic voters in battleground states, Trump has a whopping net minus-53 favorability rating. By contrast, Ted Cruz is at net minus-16. While this poll is from November, it's hard to imagine Trump's numbers have shown much improvement since then. When I asked Tom Schaller, who is political director for Latino Decisions, if a candidate with a minus-53 net favorability among Hispanics can win a national election. His answer was a succinct "no."


By the way, Hillary Clinton's net favorability with Hispanic voters is a plus-35, the highest of any candidate running for president this year.

These numbers could be an even bigger issue for down-ballot Republicans. This is the downside of Trump that few establishment Republicans are taking into account. In deep-red states, an association with Trump is not necessarily a problem; in blue or purple states, it could be toxic, especially states with high numbers of minority voters. If you're Ron Johnson in Wisconsin, Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania, or Rob Portman in Ohio — all seeking reelection to the Senate — do you even appear with Trump at a campaign event? The mere association with Trump could be deeply damaging for these candidates — and, if he's the nominee, there is no way to avoid it.

And then there is Trump himself. His "say anything, do anything" approach to politics has served him well among anxious and resentful Republican voters. But that's precisely what has led to his stratospherically high unfavorabilities among every other group of voters. He is an all-or-nothing candidate, and anyone who thinks he can pivot to the center or soften his appeal is kidding themselves. To do so would risk upsetting his core base of supporters, but also would entail some sort of full-body personality makeover. It's not going to happen. Trump is who he is.


Quite simply, with Trump at the head of the ticket, Republicans are looking at a nominee prone to making outrageous and offensive statements who will mobilize high turnout among minority voters and lead to widespread defections from Republican leaders.

You put that together and it does the nearly impossible: makes Ted Cruz seem like a better alternative.

Michael A. Cohen's column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter@speechboy71.