Ross Douthat surveys the “Republican mess” after New Hampshire, and says this:
Which leaves us with the Trump-as-nominee scenario, something I’ve consistently predicted will not happen. I’m not going to break with that prediction here. But it must be acknowledged that if you were scripting a path to the nomination for a populist candidate who only has a third of the party in his corner [bold mine-DL], this is almost exactly the script that you would write — with a strong but still-limited hard-right candidate like Cruz, and then a logjam of weak and deluded mainstream politicians competing deep into the primary season for the rest of the vote.
If we could be sure that Trump only had a “third of the party in his corner” and won’t get more support than that, it would make more sense to assume that Trump won’t be the nominee, but it’s not clear why we would think this. As I mentioned yesterday, Trump received more votes than McCain in 2008 or Romney in 2012, and his margin of victory over the runner-up was larger than either one’s. In other words, Trump outperformed the last two nominees in the first primary. (Considering that Romney was from Massachusetts, it is even more remarkable that more New Hampshire voters turned out for Trump than for him.) Since Trump has repeated their success with moderate Republican voters while remaining competitive among conservatives (and his national and state polling has followed the same pattern for months), why wouldn’t we think that he will receive similarly broad support as the primary season continues?
We can see from polling done before Iowa and New Hampshire that Trump is already getting more than a third of the vote in many different kinds of states, and so it seems more likely than not that his numbers are going to go up in the coming weeks following his win. Trump has been averaging 40% in Florida and Massachusetts. In the latest polling, he has almost as much support in Michigan. There may be a ceiling to his support, but it already seems to be higher than a third of the party, and it will probably end up much higher than that as he wins more primaries.
Trump’s support has been consistently underestimated or dismissed, and yet it has continued to increase. His supporters have already given him the second-best Republican caucuses result of all time, and 100,000 of them showed up for him in New Hampshire. Following that success, why wouldn’t his support keep growing?