Why isn’t Trump being covered as the overwhelming favorite to be the Republican nominee?
Substitute any other Republican in the race into Trump’s current position. There is a 100 percent chance that that person would be touted as the prohibitive favorite or the odds-on nominee
It’s true that party elites and pundits don’t want to accept this, but barring a dramatic change in the next few days it seems to me that it won’t be credible for anyone to keep denying it. Acknowledging this reality doesn’t mean that one has to approve of it. In fact, facing up to the reality that Trump is the most likely nominee right now is the only way that anti-Trump Republicans will be able to stop him from winning. Clinging to the illusion that they have the luxury of time while Trump racks up wins and delegates isn’t going to do it. Anti-Trump Republicans can’t simply wait him out and hope for the best. The RNC’s own rules have created a primary process that rewards the top candidate and penalizes the weaker ones to make sure that the contest isn’t the long, drawn-out one that Trump’s rivals now need it to be. Anti-Trump Republicans can’t assume that Trump’s support won’t increase after he wins multiple primaries, and they shouldn’t take for granted that his campaign will simply implode or that he will grow so tired of winning that he decides to stop. Believing that is how they ended up in their current bind, and it is what keeps them from recognizing that they’re losing.
There have been and still are far more potential Trump supporters than his opponents think there are. Some anti-Trump Republicans like to console themselves with the idea that Trump has only a third of the party behind him, and that in a three-way race Trump’s support will be insufficient to secure the delegates needed to win the nomination outright. There is more and more evidence that this simply isn’t so.
Trump’s support has remained in the low 30s nationally and in many of the early states because there are still several other candidates in the race, but once the weaker ones are taken out of the picture his support increases. We saw that in the South Carolina polling I mentioned earlier this week and we see it even more clearly in national polling. YouGov’s national survey found that in a hypothetical three-way match-up between Trump, Cruz, and Rubio, Trump handily beats both among likely Republican primary voters by twenty points with 46%. Neither Cruz (26%) nor Rubio (28%) receives the support of a third of these Republican voters. It’s possible that those numbers could change over the next few weeks, but it shows that support for Trump isn’t limited to just a third of the GOP, but seems to include almost one half of it. Among Republicans overall, the poll found that 49% favor Trump, as do 47% of conservatives in that same three-way race. The poll also found that 53% of likely Republican voters expect Trump to be the nominee, and that puts them far ahead in recognizing political reality that many of their party leaders and pundits don’t want to admit.
If Trump’s opponents think those voters are wrong, that raises the question that I asked last month: who is going to defeat Trump? To believe that one of his two strongest rivals will do this requires being able to show where Trump is going to lose to one or both of them, and except for Texas (where Cruz currently leads) and maybe the Minnesota caucuses one would be hard-pressed to identify a place where that will happen in the next month. Following commanding wins in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and (probably) Nevada, it becomes even harder to see where these candidates compete with him outside of their home states. There may be a slim majority of Republicans nationally that doesn’t want Trump, but for the foreseeable future they remain too divided among the other candidates to block him.