Littwin: Donald Trump wins angry voters. Can he lose the primaries?

Can Donald Trump lose the GOP nomination, after winning angry Republican voters?

If you’re among those unready and unwilling to buy into the notion that the Donald is now a sure thing to win the Republican nomination — even as many of the same pundits who once said he couldn’t possibly win are now saying he’s unstoppable — your best hope is something we’ll call the Trump Ceiling Theory (TCT).

The TCT is, at once, the last refuge of the Trump skeptics (see Nate Silver for a full explanation), of the Republican establishment (such as it is, in the suddenly post-Bush era) and of all sane Americans (who may, God help us, get a full reading on the nation’s sanity quotient come November).

Anyway, the theory is that, yes, Trump’s special brand of demagoguery may attract something like a disaffected, angry third of the Republican vote — and, yes, that third is enough to win in a crowded primary field, and if the number grows to, say, 40 percent, that’s enough to win in a not-so-crowded field — but when you finally get down to a two-person race, presumably Trump against establishment favorite Marco Rubio, well, all bets are off. Because of the TCT.

This theory — that Trump has a high floor and a low ceiling — is based on simple math and simple logic, not to mention dozens of polls showing Trump’s unfavorables to be truly unfavorable.

And so, we are to believe that whatever Trump has managed to do so far (runaway victories in New Hampshire and South Carolina, an expected win in Nevada, a second place in Iowa, a huge polling lead in most of the Super Tuesday states), there is no way that fully half of Republican voters would ever support Trump. Because come on.

Therefore, Republicans must inevitably, and quickly, rally around one not-Trump, presumably Rubio, because it’s a matter of not only self-interest, but also self-preservation. Forget about Trump’s chances of beating Hillary Clinton, assuming she beats Bernie Sanders. Think instead of the damage the GOP would do to itself in choosing Trump, basically saying that ideology doesn’t matter, religion doesn’t matter, so-called family values don’t matter, not even Obamacare matters. So, yeah, come on. Politics may not be beanbag, but it’s not suicide-pact either.

Feeling better now?

I didn’t think so.

There are at least two problems with the theory. First, there are still five people in the field, if you insist on counting Ben Carson. Republicans are begging John Kasich to get out for the good of the party. But while Kasich may be running as the nice-guy Republican, he ain’t that nice. A billionaire just signed on to his team. He’s rounding up endorsements. This doesn’t look like someone ready to drop out before — in the Kasich game plan – the March 8 Michigan primary. If he hangs on there, the Ohio governor goes to his home state the next week. If you think it’s a long shot, tell that to Kasich’s new billionaire buddy.

And besides, Kasich isn’t the problem for Rubio, any more than Jeb! and Chris Christie were the problems. Rubio’s problem is Rubio, advertised as the forward-looking voice of a new generation who is still looking for a theme to his campaign other than being the one who can most often say that Obama is knowingly destroying the country. Rubio’s biggest moments so far have been outlasting Jeb! (everyone beats Jeb!) and, after getting endorsements from virtually all of South Carolina’s GOP leadership, finishing two-tenths of a percentage point ahead of Ted Cruz for second place. Rubio, who has yet to register anything close to victory, claimed victory anyway, with most of the GOP establishment loudly joining in, and pronounced it now a two-person race between him and Trump, whom Rubio has spent most of the campaign studiously avoiding.

And if Cruz wasn’t laughing at the effrontery, it was only because he was dealing with his chief spokesman being caught re-Tweeting a video falsely accusing Rubio of dissing the Bible. It became a big deal only because Cruz is Cruz, and so, to dispel with the notion that he knew exactly what he was doing in attacking Rubio, Cruz had to fire spokesman Rick Tyler on the eve of the Nevada caucuses while apologizing for his campaign being so Ted Cruz-like. Yes, TrusTed was BusTed, and it’s that kind of race.

Which doesn’t mean Cruz is going anywhere. Sure, South Carolina was a disaster for him. In a primary in which 73 percent of voters self-described as evangelists, Cruz, whose entire campaign is based on pandering to the religious right, lost the evangelist vote by six points — to Donald Trump, in what you might call the anti-humility sweepstakes.

But why does anyone think Cruz, who brags about his Nixon-like unlikeability, who brags even more about the fact that he is not a team player, would leave the race unless it’s entirely in his interest to do so? He wouldn’t. He won’t.

Let’s say, though, that Rubio starts to show some of his obvious potential. And let’s say that Cruz gets embarrassed — that’s already a stretch — by a poor showing on Super Tuesday and Kasich is done a week later in Michigan. Let’s say that Ben Carson figures he has better things to do than show up for GOP debates. Let’s say that eventually, somehow, we do get to Trump-Rubio.

What do we think Trump is doing all this time? If Cruz is losing badly and Kasich is losing badly and Rubio is trying to hold on though the Southern states, that must mean Trump is, well, winning. And winning so much that we’ll all be sick of his winning, not to mention all the delegates he’s accruing, not to mention the GOP leaders’ continuing unwillingness to call out Trump for his reprehensible campaign.

And so while there is the ceiling theory, based on the notion that no self-respecting political party would ever nominate someone as unrespectable as Trump, there is also the competing theory that, for any candidate, winning begets winning, which, I’m guessing, would go nicely on a campaign cap.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons, Flickr


  1. Consistency is not one of Mr. Littwin’s strengths and neither, apparently, is candor.

    While he is willing to admit that “many of the same pundits who once said (Donald Trump) couldn’t possibly win are now saying he’s unstoppable “ he is, evidently, unwilling to admit he was one of those pundits. I’m sure it was an accidental oversight.

    However, last July Mr. Littwin did predict that Donald Trump “will never make it to the Iowa caucuses.”

    Today, he suggests Mr. Trump just may be unstoppable despite polling guru Nate Silver’s so-called Trump Ceiling Theory. According to this theory as the Republican presidential candidate field shrinks Mr. Trump’s numbers will not increase because he has already reached his popularity ceiling among Republicans (around 40 percent) leaving another candidate an opportunity to win the remaining 60 percent.

    Mr. Littwin is not alone in his reluctance to accept the TCT but what’s interesting is in the past he has admitted he’s “always had a pretty good handle on politics. For one thing, it’s not that complicated. And for another, when I get confused, there’s always Nate Silver to straighten me out.”

    So, by rejecting the TCT Mr. Littwin is rejecting a theory embraced by his political go-to guy Nate Silver.

    But that’s not the only puzzling part of this column.

    Mr. Littwin goes to great lengths to downplay Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s ability as a politician (yes, he did admit Rubio has “obvious potential”) despite having said in the past that Marco Rubio is:
    – a young, smart, attractive, inexperienced, first-term senator.

    – my choice, if Republicans want someone with a minority background who can run on generational change and immigration reform.

    – the establishment favorite and certainly the one candidate most worrying to the Democrats.

    Yes, the week isn’t over yet and yes, Mr. Littwin’s opinions/predictions are, well, highly fluid and subject to change without prior notice but this column was written as if it had no relation to previous ones.


    Conventional wisdom has it that Hillary Clinton will crush Donald Trump next November, if they both happen to be their respective parties’ nominees. We’re told that Trump is too brash, too crude, too inexperienced, and too offensive to present a real challenge to a seasoned pro like Clinton.

    As has been the case repeatedly where Trump is concerned, however, that conventional wisdom may prove not simply wrong, but entirely backward.

    Clinton has two major weaknesses as a candidate – presuming, of course, that voters can and will overlook her apparent dishonesty. First, she has to build her own winning coalition of voters, being unlikely to reproduce Barack Obama’s and entirely unable to resurrect that which put her husband in the White House nearly a quarter century ago. Second, and more importantly, she must overcome her own record of foreign policy failure, which is obviously tied to Barack Obama’s record and, less obviously, to George W. Bush’s record as well. – The Hill

    So polling shows a Trump-Clinton race would be close, if the election were held today. But the polling doesn’t indicate that Trump can “beat her easily.” It doesn’t even show that he is the strongest Republican candidate in a race against her. The Real Clear Politics polling average shows Clinton trailing Sens. Ted Cruz, the winner in Iowa, and Marco Rubio, the third-place finisher. –

    “In one major poll, Bernie Sanders is now leading Hillary Clinton nationally. In most others, he’s not far behind from the former Secretary of State. Vermont’s Senator already has an “edge over Clinton in matchups with GOP opponents,” dispelling Clinton’s electability myth. In an average of national polls,

    Bernie Sanders is less than eight points from Hillary Clinton, after being over 50 points behind in 2015. In addition, there’s only one person capable of challenging a Republican in 2016 without James Comey declaring national security was jeopardized by a private server. –

    Bernie Sanders is the only Democratic candidate capable of winning the White House in 2016. Please name the last person to win the presidency alongside an ongoing FBI investigation, negative favorability ratings, questions about character linked to continual flip-flops, a dubious money trail of donors, and the genuine contempt of the rival political party. In reality, Clinton is a liability to Democrats, and certainly not the person capable of ensuring liberal Supreme Court nominees and President Obama’s legacy.” –

    “Things are tighter for the Democrats, where Hillary Clinton leads Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont by 44 percent to 42 percent. As with the Republicans, Mrs. Clinton wins on electability and leadership, but Mr. Sanders is seen as more truthful and better at relating to the needs of voters.

    The Quinnipiac survey had a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points.” – New York Times

    “Over the past week, a hurricane seems to have hit the shores of Hillaryland. After suffering a landslide defeat in New Hampshire, the Clinton campaign is trying to figure out how to stop the growing storm that is Bernie Sanders. There have been reports that Hillary Clinton is planning to reorganize and hire some new staffers, while many supporters are starting to seriously worry about the campaign’s message, or lack thereof. Though members of the Clinton camp have denied any serious problems within the campaign, it is all reminiscent of 2008, when staff infighting and the rise of Obama doomed Clinton’s run.” –

    “Call it “democratic socialism” to make yourself feel better, but what we have is an old hippie regurgitating cut-rate Lenin. And it’s obvious — especially when contrasted with the Democrat alternative — this kind of radical idealism is what really propels the Democratic Party.

    “Our job is not to divide. Our job is to bring people together!” Sanders roars in the ad. All genders, ethnicities, races, ages, and sexualities will meld into one and force government to “work” for everyone. The thing is, if we weren’t divide by our gender, race, class, and sexual orientation, Democrats wouldn’t win any elections.” –

    “’Cause I don’t have no use
    For what you loosely call the truth” – Tina Turner

    Greenlight a Vet
    Folds of Honor
    Memorial Day – May 30, 2016

  2. I’m coming around to the notion that Trump will be the Republican candidate. In three weeks, we’ll have a much better certainty of that. To stop such a move, I think a large group of elected Republicans are going to need to speak specifically against Trump, hitting his strong points as “a Winner”. For example, Trump stresses his economic success – politicians will need to either beat the idea specifically OR at the very least, do as Mitt Romney has done, say that until we see the tax returns or financial statements audited by a named CPA, we won’t know what Mr. Trump’s wealth actually is.
    More importantly, Trump has made a few specific policy claims: Republican leaders need to be candid and say they aren’t going to happen.
    * A wall will not be built, as Mexico won’t pay for it and the US Congress won’t, either. And they won’t waive the treaty and environmental laws to allow the construction.
    * We won’t abandon the existing trade treaties and thus cannot unilaterally impose a 35% tariff on goods.
    * We won’t allow torture.
    * We will not support the rash elements of Trump’s tax plan (pick your specifics).

    Only if Trump clearly will NOT be a winner on a number of his signature issues will he be defeated. Only a coherent block of Congressional leaders helping to educate the voters will be sufficient.

Comments are closed.