I’m a genius. Donald Trump said so. It must be true.
His observation came the night of his impressive victory in South Carolina, after I noted on CNN that the total vote garnered by Marco Rubio (22.5 percent), Jeb Bush (7.8), and John Kasich (7.6) bested his total (37.9 vs. 32.5).
My observation that a coalescing of the establishment vote could topple Trump was also something I’d tweeted: (Marco + Kasich + Jeb = more than Trump. But it needs to happen soon or it will be too late. “Hello John . . . it’s Marco calling.”) Many have since made similar observations. But minutes after I said it on TV, Trump claimed victory in Spartanburg, introduced his family, and then said this:
“So I was watching upstairs and it was really amazing to be watching what I was watching. . . . But a number of the pundits said, ‘Well, if a couple of the other candidates dropped out, if you add their scores together, it’s going to equal Trump.’
“But these geniuses – they’re geniuses – they don’t understand that as people drop out, I’m going to get a lot of those votes also. . . .
“You don’t just add them together. So I think we’re going to do very, very well. I think we’re going to do very well.”
According to Gallup daily tracking last month (Jan. 14-27), 60 percent of all Americans view Trump unfavorably, while only 33 percent view him favorably.
That he is nonetheless succeeding is attributable to a combination of factors, including exodus, passion, and neglect – the exodus from the Republican Party by those unhappy with its angry, rightward tilt; the passion of Trump supporters, which translates into participation during primary and caucus season; and the neglect by those Americans who continue to cede our political debate to those with the loudest voices.
California provides a great insight into migration from the GOP. (Don’t laugh – the state that gave us the hula hoop, Ronald Reagan, and property-tax revolts is often on the vanguard of social change.) Last week I spoke to the Orange County Business Council in the location once recognized as the hotbed of American conservatism. Orange County was the birthplace of both the John Birch Society and Richard Nixon. But amid the crowd of 700 to whom I spoke were many who wanted to share with me their stories of being Republicans in exile. Today, Orange County’s demographics are majority minority, and soon its independents will outnumber Republicans.
Last week, Secretary of State Alex Padilla revealed that 24 percent of California voters are now “no party preference,” an uptick from 2008 when slightly less than one in five checked this box. Democrats are 43 percent of the state’s voters, while Republicans are now less than 28 percent.
And it’s the GOP that has most been affected by registration changes. Its ranks have fallen by 7 percent since 2006, the last year in which a Republican won statewide. Nationwide, according to a Gallup survey last month, 42 percent of Americans now regard themselves as independent rather than Republican or Democratic.
Many of those Republicans left behind are a hostile, angry lot and their antipathy toward a government headed by Barack Obama gives them motivation to participate in what is otherwise a low-interest process. CNN’s entrance surveys for the Nevada caucus revealed that 59 percent of attendees are very angry at the federal government. Trump garnered 49 percent of these voters. That he’s been able to harness emotion taps into a reality of American politics well documented in 2014 by Pew Research Center:
“Many of those in the center remain on the edges of the political playing field, relatively distant and disengaged, while the most ideologically oriented and politically rancorous Americans make their voices heard through greater participation in every stage of the political process.”
That’s the mathematical calculation Trump is counting on – that good men and women will do nothing, at least for the next few weeks, enabling him to triumph by capturing the Republican nomination.
Michael Smerconish can be heard from 9 a.m. to noon on SiriusXM’s POTUS Channel 124 and seen hosting “Smerconish” at 9 a.m. Saturdays on CNN.