Reuters headlines its story about this poll, “Exclusive: Blocking Trump could hurt Republicans in election.” Which is accurate, although it’s just as accurate that nominating Trump could hurt Republicans by alienating #NeverTrumpers (as well as many, many, many swing voters). All of that is old news, though. Republicans have understood for months that some small but important chunk of the party is walking away after the convention no matter who the nominee is.
The real takeaway here is just how many Trumpers say they’re willing to stick with the party this fall even if Trump gets shafted in Cleveland. I never would have guessed it’s as high as 66 percent. In fact, I would have guessed at this point that half or more of Trump’s fans would boycott the general election even if Cruz beat him fair and square in the remaining primaries to get to 1,237 delegates before the convention. It’s Trump or bust for his famously loyal fans, and if the bust involves, ahem, “theft” at the convention, then it’s war — supposedly. If you believe Reuters, that’s all wrong. The most devoted third of Trump’s supporters will walk but the others are ready, however grudgingly, to line up for Cruz and beat Hillary.
That’s not a poll of Republicans generally, it’s a poll of Republicans who support Trump. And still, 66 percent are prepared to vote for a non-Trump nominee. Granted, that number doesn’t include pro-Trump independents, who’ve been showing up for him in open primaries all spring. Many of those voters will be goners in November, as any Trump fan will eagerly tell you. The question, though, in weighing Cruz’s electability against Trump’s isn’t limited to how many new voters Trump’s unorthodox coalition might bring to the party. It’s also a question of how many current Republican voters would be alienated by either of them. Cruz will turn out Republican Party regulars, which means he’ll likely start with most of Romney’s 2012 base intact. Trump will, in theory, turn out plenty of GOP irregulars, but the thing about irregulars is that they’re unpredictable. You don’t know how many you can count on, and in the meantime many regulars whom you normally do count on will head for the hills.