Do any of you sometimes suddenly remember that you’re going to die? And you have to talk yourself out of panic by reminding yourself that it’s not going to be for a long, long time, and when it finally happens it probably won’t be as bad as you fear? The same thing happens when I remember that there is a chance that Donald Trump could actually win the presidency.
In fact, these two scenarios aren’t the same at all—one is an inevitability that I will spend the remainder of my life grappling with, while the other is an unfortunate, anxiety-producing thought experiment that has a very low likelihood of ever actually coming to be. So we should all just caaaallllmmm down.
The “Oh shit, Trump might actually be a contender” panic stems exclusively from his surprisingly impressive performance in polls. Trump is currently leading among Republican candidates, polling between 24 and 32 points. But, as an article on FiveThirtyEight points out, these numbers aren’t indicative of the opinions of the vast majority of Republican voters, because the vast majority (around 80 percent) of Republican voters aren’t paying attention yet. (The analysis uses Google searches as a metric for attention paid.)
Nate Silver writes that voters only begin to pay attention right before they have to make a decision:
This burst of attention occurs quite late—usually when voters are days or weeks away from their primary or caucus. At this point in the 2012 nomination cycle, 10 weeks before the Iowa caucuses, only 16 percent of the eventual total of Google searches had been conducted. At this point in the 2008 cycle, only 8 percent had been. Voters are still in the early stages of their information-gathering process.
In another FiveThirtyEight post, David Wasserman explains why if the race comes down to a battle between a more moderate candidate like Marco Rubio or Carly Fiorina and a more ideologically extreme candidate like Trump and Ben Carson, the more moderate candidate will have the upper hand. The reason? Blue-state Republicans:
Blue-state Republicans have already propelled moderates in the 2016 money chase. According to Federal Election Commission filings, donors in the 18 states (plus Washington, D.C.) that have voted Democratic in every presidential election since 1992 have accounted for 45 percent of Rubio’s total itemized contributions, 45 percent of Bush’s, 53 percent of Fiorina’s and 85 percent of Chris Christie’s. By contrast, they’ve provided just 20 percent of Cruz’s contributions and 36 percent of Carson’s. For comparison, blue-state Republicans cast just 37 percent of all votes in the 2012 GOP primaries.2
But their real mojo lurks in the delegate chase. The electorate that nominates GOP presidential candidates is much bluer than the ones that nominate other GOP officials, a distinction that is almost impossible to overstate. Look at where the Republican Party lives: Only 11 of 54 GOP senators and 26 of 247 GOP representatives hail from Obama-won locales, but there are 1,247 delegates at stake in Obama-won states, compared with just 1,166 in Romney states.
In a New York Times post from January, Nate Cohn agrees that primaries tend to moderate a party’s candidates, and blue-state Republicans are known for supporting “establishment candidates.” In 2008, John McCain benefitted from votes in Illinois, New York, California, and New Jersey, despite losing nine of the 11 red-state votes. In 2012, 59 percent of Romney voters in the Republican primaries lived in states that eventually went to President Obama.
These trends, paired with Trump’s increasing crazy and doubling-down on racism and xenophobia, combined with his consistent lack of real knowledge and skill sets outside of the construction industry indicate that Trump’s appeal is one that is no more substantial or lasting than the memes he so eagerly circulates.
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Image of Donald Trump measuring his chances of winning/his erect penis via Getty.