Trump is like Reagan and the media is clueless about it

Greg Nash

Neurotically ignoring the fact that Donald TrumpDonald TrumpRestive GOP freshmen eye entitlement reform What will be October’s surprise? Poll: Half of Trump supporters don't trust integrity of election MORE’s position on immigration has catapulted him to the lead for the Republican presidential nomination, the media diminish his soaring poll numbers with a scrolling series of rationalizations. 

Trump might or might not be the nominee, but the dismissals of him are wishful thinking, not historical fact.

ADVERTISEMENT
All summer, for example, we were smugly assured that polls mean nothing this far in advance of an election. Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioWar over the estate tax returns Clinton’s strategy: Get under Trump’s skin Rubio, Heck help out at car crash scene MORE’s (R-Fla.) campaign manager Terry Sullivan assured Politico: “Show me the candidate who was first place in August who ended up winning in February.” 

I hope Rubio’s advisers are as sure about this as they were about amnesty being a big hit with voters.

Then it was September, and Trump was still in first place, so Rubio boasted to CNN, “We want to be in first place in February, not in August or September.”

The way things are going, at some point, Rubio’s line will have to be, “We want to be in first place in March, not in February. No, wait! We want to be first place in June, not in April.”

In fact, most candidates who were in first place the summer before an election year went on to be the nominee. Luckily, Politico is not a website primarily concerned with politics or it might have known this.

Among them: Ronald Reagan in August 1979, Walter Mondale in August 1983, Michael Dukakis (tied for first) in August 1987, Bob Dole in August 1995; George W. Bush in August 1999 and Mitt Romney in August 2011.

The years when the nominee wasn’t ahead the summer before an election are the outliers, explained by unique circumstances: President George H.W. Bush’s formidable Iraq War poll numbers in the summer of 1991; the GOP electorate going mad in 2007; and, that same year, the Democrats not working up the nerve to tell feminists that Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonWhat will be October’s surprise? Poll: Half of Trump supporters don't trust integrity of election Gingrich: 'No excuse ever' for 3 a.m. tweeting MORE wasn’t going to be the nominee.

Not only is Trump’s total domination of the polls significant — not to be confused with “insignificant” — but his supporters’ intensity is also consequential. Intense voters man phone banks and talk fence-sitters into voting for their guy.

When is the last time you heard voters say things like this about any Republican: 

“I am totally committed to Donald Trump and would probably not actively work for the Republican nominee if it is not Trump.” — E.M. Gingrich
of California.

“I believe that the nominating of Donald Trump is the Republican Party’s last chance. More importantly, his election is our last chance as a nation of strength and individual freedom.”— Steve Schalk of New Mexico.

“The greatest hope for the survival of this nation may rest in the election of Donald Trump as president.”— George O. Miles of Kansas.

But none of those statements was about Trump.

I changed the candidate from Reagan to Trump in these quotes from a 1979 Washington Post poll published in July — when Rubio thinks it would be better to be in fourth place.

Even Reagan wasn’t dominating the polls then the way Trump is now. In the Post’s poll, Reagan was at 27 percent, compared to 13 to 15 percent for everybody else, including undecideds. Since announcing his candidacy four months ago by talking about Mexican “rapists,” Trump has been polling at around 20 percent to 30 percent, with nearly every other candidate stuck in the single digits.

Although numbers like that are bound to fall now and then, the press seizes on each dip to herald the beginning of the end for Trump.

Maybe. But we got the same excitement about Reagan’s “slumps”:

• The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 30, 1979: “Douglas L. Hallett, former aide to Pres Nixon, claims Ronald Reagan’s decline in opinion polls and his inability to attract support of opinion-leaders suggest there are strong doubts regarding his ability to confront tough foreign and economic problems.”

• The Washington Post, Jan. 12, 1980: “Reagan to Keep a Low Profile Despite Slipping in Iowa Poll”

• The New York Times, March 12, 1980: “Nearly 1/3 of Democrats and Republicans polled after they leave polling places [in Florida] rate Ford a better candidate than any of Republicans in race.”

That Iowa poll wasn’t a minor slippage. The Des Moines Register poll showed Reagan’s support collapsing from 50 percent to 26 percent. Reagan went on to lose the Iowa caucuses. But even that wasn’t the beginning of the end.

Most recently, we’ve been warned that Trump may be polling at 30 percent, but 30 percent is also his “ceiling.” 

Perhaps. But why isn’t 9 percent Rubio’s ceiling? It is simply assumed that anyone who’s not currently for Trump must be aggressively anti-Trump.

The political lingo was different in 1980, but Reagan supporters were given the same warning about their candidate only being able to attract a minority of fanatical voters. 

• In December 1979, The Economist warned that Barry Goldwater’s 1964 defeat “underlined the old warning that candidates easily nominated are by no means those with the best chance of being elected.” 

• In Feb. 1980, Washington Post political reporter Haynes Johnson wondered whether Reagan’s “loyal legions will stay with him to the end, and if so whether they will be able to avert a final crash.” 

• As late as March 2, 1980, Gerald Ford said, “Every place I go and everything I hear, there is the growing, growing sentiment that Gov. Reagan cannot win the election,” and we “can’t afford to have a replay of 1964.”

It was not until Reagan had won 206 delegates to George H.W. Bush’s 47 that establishment Republicans finally began to endorse him “to head off any perception,” as The Washington Post put it, that he couldn’t win the general election. 

It all worked out in the end. Reagan was elected and saved the nation, allowing liberals and traitorous businessmen to spend the next couple of decades trying to wreck it — requiring a new, intensely supported front-runner, bashed as unelectable, to come in and save it again.

Coulter is a political commentator.