By Steve Brawner
© 2016 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.
I cannot believe I’m writing this, but last week saw two of the four remaining Republican presidential candidates commenting about the size of Donald Trump’s “hands.” I’m 46 years old, which means I’m at the age when I start looking at the past through rose-colored glasses, but I’m pretty sure presidential elections have never sunk this low in my lifetime.
How did we get here? Donald Trump ran for president and appealed to a part of the electorate that wasn’t inspired by anyone else. The other candidates each thought he would eventually go away, so they ignored him and focused on each other. Then one day, they realized that, dang, Trump was winning this thing. So Florida Sen. Marco Rubio nicked him with a few zingers and, reveling in the attention, decided to go straight to the gutter by saying Trump has “small hands.” Trump joined him, or was already there waiting for him.
The other two remaining candidates, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, refrained from discussing body parts. Of the two, Kasich has the more proven record as both a congressman and governor, and he has run a positive, unifying, Reagan-esque campaign, to the point that he alone often refused to join the competition in insulting Democrats.
In Arkansas, he won less than 4 percent of the vote March 1.
Trump, meanwhile, won almost 33 percent of 409,828 votes cast in the Republican primary. He beat Cruz, who had 30.5 percent, by more than 9,000 votes.
How did he do that? An analysis by the consulting firm Turtle Target and by the media outlet Talk Business & Politics found a high percentage of this year’s early voters had participated in only one or none of the last three primaries. Most of the early voters were above the age of 50, and two-thirds voted in the Republican primary.
Something about this election was different enough that it motivated those people to vote. Trump is the most different candidate.
Until Tuesday, it looked like Trump’s act might be wearing thin. After basing his candidacy on being a straight-shooter, he’s been flip-flopping lately, including on immigration, his signature issue. The establishment finally is hitting him hard. But he won Michigan, Mississippi and Hawaii, while Cruz won only Idaho.
Can Trump still lose? Sure. No one can say for certain what will happen next in this crazy primary season, including the pollsters. In a recent speech at the Clinton School of Public Service in Little Rock, pollster Andrew Smith said polling is much harder during the primaries, when voters are choosing between like-minded party candidates, then in the general election, when it’s the Republican versus the Democrat. In primaries, voters wait very late to decide. In New Hampshire this year, 47 percent of Republican primary voters made up their minds in the last three days before the election.
That’s one way you get such wild swings as what happened recently in Michigan, where Kasich went from having 15 percent support in a CBS News/YouGov poll taken March 2-4 to 33 percent support in another poll by American Research Group taken March 4-5. That second poll occurred entirely after that Fox News debate in Detroit when Trump said his “hands” were big enough while bickering the entire night with Rubio and Cruz. Kasich stayed above the fray and was generally considered the night’s winner.
Other polls had Kasich still behind Trump, and on Tuesday, he came in third place in that state, just behind Cruz.
Next are Wyoming and the District of Columbia March 12. Then comes the big day, March 15: Florida, Ohio, Illinois, North Carolina and Missouri. If Rubio and Kasich lose their home states of Florida and Ohio March 15, they’re out. They’ll have lost the only poll that matters, the one in the voting booth, among the people that know them best.
Trump is increasingly looking like the nominee, though I’m not predicting that or anything else this year. Not only is he winning among the Republicans, but on the Democratic side, the Clinton machine can’t put away a 74-year-old socialist who’s not even a Democrat.