Several months ago, I felt a disturbance in The Force, like millions of white voices crying out “Why isn’t there a White History Month?” at once. At the time, no one else really believed it, and now that they’re close enough to see that’s no moon, that’s a space station, it’s too late. They’re caught in the tractor beam. Even as the political media began to recognize that Donald Trump’s lead wasn’t going anywhere, they still clung to the delusion that he couldn’t win. That delusion, it turns out, is not much bigger than a womp rat, and just as easy to destroy.
Of course, Trump has been steadily extending his lead in national polls for months, but just in time for Christmas, there’s a CNN/ORC poll that all but ends the notion that some establishment candidate will swoop in at the last minute to save Republicans from a Trump nomination:
Trump tops the field with 39%, according to the poll of Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters. That’s more than double the share backing Cruz, who, at 18%, has inched up 2 points since the last CNN/ORC poll, which was taken in late November.
Trump has been a constant atop the polls since his ascent to the lead in July, and this new poll marks the first time Cruz stands significantly apart from the other candidates vying for the nomination. Behind those two, Ben Carson and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio have each slipped a few points and now stand tied at 10%.
Trump’s number alone is enough to make the rest of the field feel the fork going in, but the really devastating number is 67%. That’s the total support for Trump. Ted Cruz, and Ben Carson. Those votes are never going to go to Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush. Carson’s orbit is decaying rapidly, but his supporters are all going to Cruz and Trump.
But even if Cruz is more your poison than Trump, a strong debate performance and well-publicized spat with Marco Rubio have only moved him up two points in this poll. Rubio also performed well in the debate, and is the establishment’s only hope, and he lost two points. The news gets worse and worse, as Trump polls over 50% with Republicans on his handling of almost every issue (he gets 47% on handling ISIS; his next competitor, Ted Cruz, gets 21%), which refutes popularly-held notions of a Trump “ceiling” in the low forties.
All of this is a gift to Hillary Clinton, which is not to say she’s a shoo-in against Trump. but it’s now her game to lose. Trump will do well with independents, and his wild card is the potential to turn out the millions of people who watched The Apprentice, but who don’t vote. A Trump nomination, however, will also likely goose minority turnout and anti-Trump turnout, and I think Hillary will mop the floor with Trump in the debates, which might actually mean something this time. People only look good in Republican debates because they’re debating Republicans. Against Hillary, Trump may land some one-liners that will entertain his racist peanut gallery, but he will be so badly outclassed on substance that substance will actually become a factor.
So Merry Christmas, Hillary, and Happy Solstice to all you Republicans.