Exactly one year ago, if someone told you that Donald Trump — the man who is most famous for building a real estate empire, running beauty pageants, and hosting reality television shows would be the leader in the 2016 presidential race. — you’d probably take that person about as seriously as a babbling crazy person on the street. Nevertheless, Donald Trump has managed to tap into something in the Republican base that has caused him to lead in primary Republican polling almost since right after announcing his candidacy, both nationwide and more recently in early primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire.
Since announcing his candidacy in June of 2015, Donald Trump’s poll numbers have seen ups and downs, but by far there have been way more ups than downs. Just days before the first-in-the-nation Iowa Caucuses, Donald Trump has close to 35% nationwide, 34% in Iowa, and 32% in New Hampshire, according to the Real Clear Politics poll averages. His second place contender, Ted Cruz, has 19%, 27%, and 13% respectively. Rubio’s relatively meager 12% nationally pales in comparison to what Trump and, to a lesser extent Cruz, have accomplished in terms of popularity.
That being said, will the Republican “establishment” — itself an amorphous organization of policy wonks, elected officials, and conservative media outlets — actually back someone like Donald Trump if he, as it now appears he might, manages to clinch the Republican Primary process?
There are certainly some who believe they might. For example, just a few days ago Iowa governor Terry Branstad said that he wanted Senator Cruz defeated — a statement that puts Trump’s only real challenger in Iowa at risk. The fact that Governor Branstad did this is even more important, given that fact that, should Trump win in Iowa, he has a very clear path to victory in the next few primary states, including New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada. If Trump manages to win in all of those primary races, his momentum might be unstoppable.
At the same time, there are reports coming from several news outlets which indicate that many establishment insiders and consultants are “coming around to” the idea of having Donald Trump as their nominee, and potentially as the next President of the United States.
Of course, all of this must be put into context. Donald Trump’s “unfavorables” are consistently among the highest in the race for either party. This means that, while Trump has successfully consolidated about a third of Republican primary voters, huge swaths of the American electorate proclaim they will not vote for him.
In this context, it is easier to see how, and why, someone like Governor Branstad would attack Cruz (who opposes ethanol subsidies). The Governor simply believes that the 50% or so of the Republican primary electorate that is still split between Bush, Kasich, Rubio, Christie, and the others will ultimately be consolidated into a “centrist” or “establishment” lane, which could pose a real challenge to Trump’s dominance.
Only time will tell on whether or not Trump can be passed by one his challengers, and whether the establishment will support or oppose him. Rest assured, the establishment figures will do everything they can to retain their power, and to keep the money flowing to their interests. Whether a potential President Trump or Cruz would play ball is a different question altogether.
At the end of the day it’s hard to imagine conservatives who are even very opposed to Trump pulling for Hillary or Bernie Sanders over him. Or maybe they’ll wake up and finally see why his anti-establishment ways are so popular.
It will be fun to see how this all plays out.