We have numbers from the elections yesterday. It’s the numbers we don’t have that tell the story.
Donald Trump says The Establishment is a bunch of stupid people.
And Super Tuesday continues to prove him right, because the bumbling fools who run the Republican Party and its presidential campaigns have reaped the whirlwind of their arrogance. They thought their contempt for Trump was a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, all these months they have appeared disdainful of the electorate, which accordingly has circled the wagons around Trump.
Their campaigns seemed to assume that angry Republican voters were flocking to Trump because Washington Republicans failed to defund Planned Parenthood or repeal Obamacare. That’s ridiculous. If that were the case, they would be for Ted Cruz, hands down. Indeed, until well into Trump’s candidacy, Trump seemed to be ambivalent on these issues.
The right-wingers took their cue from Sean Hannity and the evangelicals. But Hannity and some other Talk Radio impresarios go with the flow, and the ratings, in this case the populist Trump. And so did Fox News for much of last year. And the evangelicals? In the past, issues like same sex marriage and abortion, and a candidate’s personal life, were important; but soon after Trump announced, data showed the evangelicals were becoming, dare we say, expedient? The leaders of the conservative movement, in classic cognitive dissonance, ignored the data and took the evangelicals for granted.
For an entire generation, various self-anointed leaders of evangelical conservatism played a game of “gotcha” — finding fault with one conservative candidate after another, each not sufficiently oriented toward “values.” Suddenly they discarded all the litmus tests and went with the “CEO.” But the data showed support among rank and file evangelicals for Trump. Why pretend it wasn’t so? And the “leaders” validated the grassroots.
The consensus-analysis was wrong, so was the game plan, which essentially was benign neglect or, in the case of Cruz, worse: he embraced Trump and gave him legitimacy, based on the absurd belief that Cruz, because he didn’t get along with his Senate colleagues, was as much of an outsider as Trump.
Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are very different, but supporters of both men believe the system is rigged, that the middle-class is getting screwed. Trump’s themes are hardly original. But the other candidates were talking about the wrong issues, and they still were, last night. Ted Cruz for months has pitched himself as a “constitutional conservative” — sorry, not a broad based team; even Talk Radio’s Mark Levin, the quintessential constitutional conservative, has Trump defectors among his listeners. Cruz always talked as if he were at a Federalist Society meeting. Marco Rubio was talking about the millennials and the 21st century, a kind of Republican version of John F. Kennedy and his “new frontier.” Neither Cruz nor Rubio or the other candidates grasped the alienation of the disappearing middle class, though Rubio talked about the downsizing of generational hope.
We have no data to prove the ridiculous assumption that votes for every candidate other than Trump are “anti-Trump.” Would we say that the votes for all candidates other than Cruz are “anti-Cruz”? This is amateur hour. No wonder as each candidate dropped out, Trump would get some of those votes. These people do not live in a Chicago ward where someone tells them how to vote. Moreover, the longer Trump voters remain with him, the tougher it is to dislodge them, and the more Trump’s support grows, the more it grows: this is the momentum effect where Trump-leaning voters feel validation and make the move to Trump-definite. All this is not new stuff, but Political Campaigns 101, a course all the Talking Head “strategists” on CNN and Fox never took or failed.
Here are some numbers we do have. Trump’s various Republican opponents and their super PACs collectively raised nearly six hundred and fifty million dollars. Most of that, perhaps a half billion dollars, has already been spent. Millions have been spent on repetitive quantitative research (polls) and mediocre qualitative research (focus groups). This spending does not count the notorious special interests and lobbyists, and the quasi-political operations, like the Koch political conglomerate, and the polls and focus groups of all these Inside-outsiders.
And if some of those polls tested the ineffective ads, then why did the ads continue?
Why is all this important?
It’s not because Trump’s cost-per-vote is far less than what his opponents spent per vote. However, Trump suggests his cost-effective campaign previews his efficacious governance.
What’s important is this: If the costly research did not show the anger and intensity of the Trump voters, then the inept polling and unfocused focus groups were even worse than the usual Republican junk. I knew all this just from talking with hardcore conservative friends all over the country who were for Trump.
If, however, the research captured what was in fact obvious to everyone except the Beltway Consultant Class, then why was The Establishment apathetic? Their arrogance in this election is Exhibit One that these strategists really are inbred and pathetic. Competent polls and focus groups would have: (1) discredited the “Trump ceiling” theory; (2) scoped the difficulty in dislodging the Trump base; and (3) shown how to do it.
How not to do it is the sledgehammer approach. That is, “You Trump voters are not very bright because you have fallen for a no-good creep.” Then, follow up with an attack on their gullibility, and then cite issues that are not decision-points for them. Worse, have The Establishment attack Trump and thus reinforce his theme that the entrenched power, the special interests, the lobbyists are all ganging up against him.
In this situation, you use “real people” in your themes and advertising. That’s also in Political Campaigns 101. Of course, that requires lots of quality time and heavy lifting.
We don’t have the numbers of all the past research that left the candidates asleep at the switch. And there also are even more missing numbers from the results from the primaries, especially yesterday’s:
How many Democrats and independent voters, in permissible states, crossed over to back Trump? Were they mischievous — to back a Republican nominee to lose in November — or trendsetters — to back a Republican nominee to win in November? We see record Republican primary turnouts, normally auspicious for the general election. If Trump is the nominee, will he make inroads among independent voters, blue collar Democrats, first time voters, and even black voters? And what percentage defection among Republicans can we project? Or is the defection overstated, just as Trump’s ceiling was understated, and will the defection rate become lower over time?
If Trump might be the nominee, this is where the research should be. Directed. That’s because all these voter movements could not only enlarge the electoral pie but also change its composition. We need to find out: Is Donald Trump a get-out-the-vote bonanza for the Republican Party’s presidential candidacy and the party’s Senate and House candidates or, on net balance, does he turn out the other side, electing Hillary in November, and helping Democrats retake the Senate and improve their numbers in the House?
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