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Tuesday, February 19 , 2019, 3:18 pm | Fair 55º


Susan Estrich: Donald Trump’s Rise a Sign of Republican Party’s Demise

The new polls showing Donald Trump in a strong lead for the Republican nomination tell you just how much trouble the Republican Party is in right now.

I’m not saying that the Republican Party will nominate him, but it’s hard to dismiss the new frontrunner as “not serious,” which is what most Republican leaders and elected officials would like to do, when he’s surging and Jeb Bush is falling.

It’s not hard to figure out why some voters are responding to Trump. He says out loud what conventional politicians wouldn’t, which might be a good thing if what he was saying didn’t smack of racism and sexism.

Sure, it’s refreshing to hear someone say out loud what we all know: that in politics, friendships are for sale.

But talk of mass deportations of illegal immigrants, whom Trump denounces as criminals and rapists, will cost him any support among the fast-growing Latino electorate, and his relentless attacks on women in general and Megyn Kelly in particular explain why more than six in 10 women don’t like him.

So how does a guy who isn’t liked by a majority of the electorate stand a serious chance of being the Republican nominee?

First, because Republican caucus-goers and primary voters are not representative of the electorate in general, and the gap is growing because of guys like Trump.

The general electorate is majority female; Republican primary and caucus attendees are majority male, and then some. The general electorate is also getting more diverse, while the Republican Party — at least as Trump would define it — is offending the fast-growing Latino electorate with his extreme statements about immigration.

In the old days, the Democratic Party nominee would end up spending most of the general election campaign trying to appeal to white men because the gender gap wasn’t enough to get you to 51 percent.

Now, if you look at the gap between the two parties in terms of support from women and minorities, it is enough.

President Barack Obama would have lost in 2012 with the 1988 electorate; Mitt Romney lost because the electorate has changed. The Republican Party, by contrast, has not.

Second, Trump stands a chance because all he needs is a minority of a minority to take over the Republican field, at least until the field really narrows.

The latest polls show him commanding the support of nearly 30 percent of Republican voters, which is far from a majority, but more than enough for a commanding lead in a multicandidate race.

There are simply too many candidates, which is not only a nightmare for debate producers; it’s also a challenge for the process.

I’m not sure Trump could beat any of the “serious” Republicans in a one-on-one race, but with so many candidates in the game, the winnowing process may well take longer than usual, which means that he could keep winning for longer than he “should.”

It isn’t always true that a long race leaves the party bitter and divided, as the 2008 Democratic race showed, but that’s because there really wasn’t a huge divide between the candidates, and none at all between their supporters. Hillary Clinton supporters weren’t about to abandon the first African-American to be his party’s nominee for president.

Not so with Trump and his supporters. At the very least, he will earn himself a prominent place at the Republican convention, where nobody will be allowed to vet his speech in advance.

Having tasted the attention that comes with being a candidate for president, Trump is not going to go gently into the night. 

Susan Estrich is a best-selling author, the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the USC Law Center and was campaign manager for 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. Click here to contact her or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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