He's going to be the nominee, folks
On Donald Trump's coronation.
Two stories dropped over the past 24 hours that are worth paying attention to. One deals in the real world of Republican politics while the other reflects a fantasy world that some establishment GOPers are still living in.
A collective of major Republican donors, known as the American Opportunity Alliance, is summoning representatives from both the DeSantis and Haley campaigns to Dallas on Oct. 13 to make presentations about why the deep-pocketed donor group should back them as the main Trump alternative in the GOP race…
…Donors are not expected to be asked to formally consolidate their support behind one candidate during the meeting. But the gathering offers both Haley and DeSantis camps to try and convince the group their candidate is the most viable alternative to Trump, who leads the GOP primary polls by wide margins.
This gathering is of a piece with the planned donor retreat for Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin that I wrote about yesterday in this space.
The notional idea behind this conclave is that a) there is a strong desire for an alternative to Donald Trump among Republicans and b) major donors, by dint of their deep pockets, can hand-select who that Trump alternative will be.
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That premise is false. And I can prove it — using the second story, this one from the New York Times:
A well-funded group of anti-Trump conservatives has sent its donors a remarkably candid memo that reveals how resilient former President Donald J. Trump has been against millions of dollars of negative ads the group deployed against him in two early-voting states….
…But in the memo — dated Thursday and obtained by The New York Times — the head of Win It Back PAC, David McIntosh, acknowledges to donors that after extensive testing of more than 40 anti-Trump television ads, “all attempts to undermine his conservative credentials on specific issues were ineffective.”
“Even when you show video to Republican primary voters — with complete context — of President Trump saying something otherwise objectionable to primary voters, they find a way to rationalize and dismiss it,” Mr. McIntosh states in the “key learnings” section of the memo.
“Every traditional postproduction ad attacking President Trump either backfired or produced no impact on his ballot support and favorability,” Mr. McIntosh adds. “This includes ads that primarily feature video of him saying liberal or stupid comments from his own mouth.”
In short: The group has spent $6 million in anti-Trump ads — $4 million in Iowa and another $2 million in South Carolina — to absolutely no avail.
This is not a new finding. Writing in the New Yorker recently, Benjamin Wallace Wells detailed the futility that Ron DeSantis’ campaign was experiencing in trying to find a message that actually pulled voters away from Trump.
Here’s the key bit:
Even attaching Trump’s name to an otherwise effective message had a tendency to invert the results, this source said. If a moderator said that the Covid lockdowns destroyed small businesses and facilitated the largest upward wealth transfer in modern American history, seventy per cent of the Republicans surveyed would agree. But, if the moderator said that Trump’s Covid lockdowns destroyed small businesses and facilitated the largest upward wealth transfer in modern American history, the source said, seventy per cent would disagree.
This, as you might guess, is a problem in any race. It’s a really big problem when Trump is ahead of the rest of the field by 40+ points nationally — and enjoys almost as wide a margin in early voting states like Iowa and New Hampshire.
Because, conventional wisdom dictates, that the only way that you make up ground on such a heavy favorite is to attack, attack, attack. But, as the Times story makes clear, Republican voters don’t want any of the candidates to criticize Trump.
Mr. McIntosh, a former Indiana congressman who co-founded the Club for Growth and the Federalist Society, makes it clear in the memo that any anti-Trump messages need to be delivered with kid gloves…
…“It is essential to disarm the viewer at the opening of the ad by establishing that the person being interviewed on camera is a Republican who previously supported President Trump,” he adds, “otherwise, the viewer will automatically put their guard up, assuming the messenger is just another Trump-hater whose opinion should be summarily dismissed.”
And we’ve seen that born out in real time! Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has premised his entire campaign on a kamikaze mission designed to keep Trump from the Republican nomination, has sky-high negatives among Republicans. Ditto Mike Pence, Trump’s former VP(!), who had the audacity to uphold the rule of law in the face of a pressure campaign led by the then-president to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
The conundrum here quickly becomes clear: If the only way to try to catch Trump is to attack him AND attacking him rapidly backfires well, then, what exactly do you do?
Yeah. Not a lot of good answers to that question. Which may explain why DeSantis, at one point widely regarded as the only true Trump alternative in the race, has struggled so much to find his messaging footing in the race.
That fact is what makes this meeting between major donors and associates for Haley and DeSantis so totally pointless. They can scheme and plot all they want about who has a better chance to beat Trump. But, if there is NO negative message that voters are willing to hear about him, it’s all moot. Because then there is no catching Trump.
The Republican establishment can keep fooling itself about Trump’s near-inevitability as their party’s nominee for as long as they like. But it’s not going to change the reality: He is winning and, at least at present, there doesn’t appear to be any way to stop him.