Because Donald Trump tends to do three or four outrageous things a day, it’s hard to isolate his remarks about John McCain. If his favorable numbers went up or down in the aftermath of those remarks, it could be because of something else. Still, several pundits were quick to pronounce Trump’s candidacy dead when he mocked McCain for getting captured, and others suggested that he’d peaked in popularity.
The picture is nuanced, but it doesn’t support these prognostications. While Trump saw a dip in his favorables and a spike in his unfavorables, the bottom line is that he’s doing better than ever.
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s favorable ratings this week are similar to those of Trump, though fewer Republicans rate Bush unfavorably.
But there is clearly a core group of registered voters who identify as Republicans that has coalesced around Trump’s tough talk and proposals. He is even more clearly in first place than he was two weeks ago when Republicans are asked to choose among the current candidates. Two weeks ago, in the Economist/YouGov Poll, 27% of registered voters who identified as Republicans chose Trump as their first or second choice for the nomination. This week, 28% say he is their first choice, and another 10% rank him second.
That’s actually a considerable boost. I said that I doubted that the McCain comments would hurt him, and I said that I doubted that thinking about Trump in terms of the second or third choices of poll respondents would explain as much as it should. Here we see Trump suffering from dropping popularity and still doing much better as a second choice. That’s not what people would predict if this were really about Trump.
But it’s not about Trump. It’s about the modern GOP. Trump is only the honey trap that collects massive inchoate discontent that has grown to the point of outright nihilism. Seriousness has been completely jettisoned. Trump can fall down dead tomorrow and the Republicans will have the exact same voters with the exact same lack of regard for science, common sense, or any American institution, whether it be the president, Congress, the Supreme Court, the media, the RNC, the Republican leadership, or our academic institutions.
That’s why people can simultaneously like Trump less and support him more.
This isn’t that complex, but it is tough medicine to swallow. Pundits do not want to believe the truth about what’s happened to the right in this country, but it’s the most dangerous development we’ve seen in a long time, and it’s the biggest story of this campaign.