There are two things that are driving Trump’s recent nose dive in the polls. The first is that he has lost support among independent voters. The second is that he has lost support amongst the registered voters of his own party. Trump cannot survive either of these things and both problems must be fixed if he is going to have a chance to win.
The dynamic in recent Presidential elections has been remarkably static: the Democrat candidate wins the registered Democrat vote by a margin of about 90-9, and the Republican candidate wins the registered Republican vote by about the same margin. Victory is achieved by some combination of turning out your base more efficiently than the other guy, and winning the Independent vote.
As I noted last night and before, Trump is not doing that. Recent polls show that Trump has been getting 80% of less of Registered Republicans, and an even smaller number of self-identified conservatives. This, by itself, would ordinarily be fatal to the Presidential aspirations of any general election candidate, but Trump has been polling lower-than-average among members of his own party since day one (although he reached a high point of about 85% Republican support right after the convention, which coincided with the one brief lead he held in the polls). Trump has stayed competitive in this race because he has done well with independents, but that lead has crumbled, and the end result is that he’s fallen behind into landslide territory.
The simple fact is that Trump needs to reverse both trends if he is going to manage a lead that will be in any way sustainable. Trump simply cannot manage to sustain the 20-point lead with Independents that he will need if he continues to hemorrhage 20% of his own party. In spite of his bluster to the contrary, Trump does need the conservative voters who he lost in the primary. He needs the #NeverTrump people to become at the very least #MaybeTrump. There’s a reason he knelt at the altar of Paul Ryan and John McCain last weekend even though doing so angered some of his most prominent early supporters.
His more intelligent supporters know it, too, which is why they’ve transitioned from mocking #NeverTrump as an insignificant movement that will make no difference in the election, to attempting to convince #NeverTrump to abandon their stance.
Unfortunately, the only tools of persuasion they have in their arsenal seem to be peer pressure and intimidation. The first of these takes the form of “you’re helping Hillary win” or some other variant of “you’re letting the team down” or “I won’t be friends with you anymore if you don’t vote the way I want.” Here is a news flash: a necessary precursor to becoming #NeverTrump is reaching the conclusion that Trump is either as bad or worse than Hillary – or at the very least, insufficiently better than her to merit a vote. Telling such a person “you’re helping Hillary win” (which isn’t even true) is like trying to talk someone out of buying a Ferrari by telling them that it drives very fast.
The other thing they try is flat out intimidation. Thinly veiled threats like “We’ll remember who stood with us and who won’t,” or not-veiled-at-all threats are thrown at everyone in the #NeverTrump movement by Trump supporters on Twitter every day.
Trump and his supporters have tried these two tactics to death since Trump sewed up the nomination on May 3rd. It’s now August 9th. If “get in line,” “Trump won,” “You’re helping Hillary,” and “we’ll remember those who opposed us” haven’t worked by now, they are not going to work.
Here’s an idea: try treating lifelong Republicans and conservatives who are resistant to voting for Trump like fully grown adults who long ago learned how to resist peer pressure and stick to their beliefs. Try to imagine that they might have already thought through the possible consequences of their vote – and, indeed, that having done so is what led them to this position in the first place.
Try to actually engage substantively with the objections to Trump – which are not exclusively or even mostly related to ideological purity and are not at all caused by “sour grapes” – but are instead rooted in the conviction, based on recent experience, that nothing Trump says can be believed, and that he as a person would be a walking time bomb if he actually occupied the oval office. Find some way to reassure voters who most assuredly do not want Hillary Clinton to become President that Trump has it in him to actually do this job in a way that wouldn’t materially harm the country (and, indeed, the world at large). Don’t assume that repeatedly pointing at Hillary and braying will get the job done, because it won’t. We’ve been watching Hillary for 25 years now; you’re not surprising us by telling us that she’s bad.
Convince us that Trump is good or at least less bad, and do it with facts, if you can. Or don’t; it’s no skin off my teeth if he loses. But you should realize by now that what you’re doing is not working and will in fact contribute to his loss in November.