Politics & Policy

Reality Begins to Catch Up with Trump

(Rick Wilking/Reuters)
His poll numbers are tanking at precisely the moment when they should be on the rise.

Throughout his campaign, Donald Trump has bragged about how he is beholden to no one — not interest groups, not donors, not the media. But unfortunately, he is beholden to voters. Just a few days after the terrorist attack in Orlando, and just over a week after his racist comments regarding federal judge Gonzalo Curiel, Trump faces his worst polling numbers since he entered the race.

The newest ABC News/Washington Post poll shows Trump with an overall unfavorable rating of 70 percent, including 77 percent among women, 69 percent among independents, and an incredible 88 percent among non-whites. NBC News and Bloomberg Politics have Hillary Clinton leading by seven and twelve points, respectively, with 55 percent of Bloomberg respondents saying they would “never” vote for Donald Trump.

These numbers should come as no surprise. Throughout the primaries, Trump’s standing in the polls seemed unaffected by the unending torrent of controversy he produced. But as he has locked down the Republican nomination and the general-election matchup with Clinton has started to take shape, his campaign has faced intensifying scrutiny. And as someone with underdeveloped policy positions and a penchant for inflammatory — and arguably racist — campaign rhetoric, Trump has not been well-served by the attention. Over the past month, he’s faced negative news cycle after negative news cycle, starting with his comments about Curiel and continuing with the Orlando terror attack and his renewed call for a ban on Muslims’ entering the United States.

A CBS poll shows that 51 percent of Americans disapprove of Trump’s response to the attack in Orlando, versus just 25 percent who approve. Since the beginning of his campaign, Trump has criticized President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and at times other Republicans for being “weak,” arguing that he was going to be the tough-guy president capable of providing jobs and catching terrorists. Americans don’t seem to be buying it. And considering that Trump’s initial response to the tragic shooting was to take a victory lap, claims that he is the best person to respond to crises will likely not be very credible.

RELATED: How Bad Are Trump’s National Polls? Some History.

Trump supporters have been noticeably silent on these poll numbers, likely because they contradict the narrative he’s tried to sell from the beginning: that he is good on immigration, good on terror, and a uniquely strong leader. We’ve known from the very beginning that Trump is none of these things, and now the evidence confirms it.

Trump is not any other Republican. He is brash, incendiary, and unlikable in the eyes of almost every subset of voters.

According to most political-science research, after a terrorist attack, voters tend to increase their support for male Republican politicians, whom they see as tougher, stronger members of the more hawkish party. Pew Research reports that Americans trust Republicans more when it comes to dealing with terrorists, and studies have shown that men seem stronger on terror to voters than women, likely because of gender stereotypes. Many have also argued that national-security threats or attacks between now and the election only stand to benefit Trump against Clinton. In the wake of the deadliest mass shooting in American history, he should, therefore, be rising in the polls, or at least not be experiencing the spiral we’ve seen over the past couple of days.

And if he were any other Republican, it seems likely that he would be rising: President Obama has shown that his policy towards ISIS is proving ineffective, and voters recognize that a Clinton presidency would merely be a continuation of Obama’s approach. But Trump is not any other Republican. He is brash, incendiary, and unlikable in the eyes of almost every subset of voters. His personal shortcomings and inability to rein in his own crazed persona are continuing proof that the Republican party is wrong to nominate him for president. Amy Walter, national editor of the Cook Political Report, said as much in a tweet earlier on Wednesday:

“Hillary Clinton is in terrible shape,” Walter says over the phone, speaking about the most recent “unfavorable” numbers. “And we’re at a time where this election should be a time-for-change election, not a status quo election. And yet, the [Republican] candidate that is coming forward is the one person who can make people rethink that change and support a candidate that they don’t feel good about in Hillary Clinton.”

#related#Republicans could and should have seen this coming. In their post-2012 autopsy, they laid out a clear description of a candidate who could win a general election. And that description, said Walter, “looked a heck of a lot like Marco Rubio.” If Republican voters had nominated Rubio, or maybe John Kasich or Ted Cruz — heck, even a mannequin wearing a red tie — the GOP candidate might be leading Hillary Clinton by several points, or at least, according to Walter, “not seeing the horrific numbers we see now.” Instead, they nominated an incompetent egomaniac who spent the last four days conspiratorially implying that Obama is an ISIS sleeper agent.

Despite the desperate attempts of Trump’s handlers to get their candidate to stick with a teleprompter, it doesn’t seem likely that his indiscretion will stop being a liability — he has even said explicitly that he “won’t change.” Instead, he will remain, on his face, deeply unqualified to be president of the United States. And while he continues to double down on identity politics, offensive comments, and inadequate policies, establishment Republicans will be left to come to terms with the massive opportunity they’ve squandered.

— Andrew Badinelli is an intern at National Review.

Andrew Badinelli — Andrew Badinelli is an intern at National Review and studies economics and government at Harvard University.

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