Rich Lowry says that Republican establishment types are telling him that they think Trump would run better than Ted Cruz in the general election. That would seem unlikely given the publicly available data. Trump is running behind Clinton in head-to-head polling, while Cruz is ahead of her. Neither does Trump seem to have much room to grow among general election voters. Trump’s favorability numbers are toxic among independents and Democrats (and not that great among Republicans.) If you were simply going for the most “electable” candidate, Cruz wouldn’t be your first choice, but he makes much more sense than Trump. So what are the establishment types doing?
If I had to guess a reason (beyond spite and incompetence – though those would suffice) for why Republican establishment types are talking up Trump’s chances in the general election, it would be to prevent a panic stampede to Cruz among the chamber of commerce conservatives and upper-middle-class moderates that make up the constituency for candidates like Rubio, Christie, Bush, and Kasich.
Cruz beats Trump in head-to-head polling. Trump beats Rubio in head-to-head polling. Trump only beats Cruz if there is a strong three-way race (with Rubio in third place.)
If we take it seriously that a Trump nomination would be an unprecedented moral and electoral disaster, then it is also plausible that affluent conservatives and moderates hold their noses and support Cruz as the best chance to block Trump. Given where the polling is, anti-Trump panic benefits Cruz.
And if those more establishment-minded votes rally to Cruz before the Iowa Caucuses, you have a self-fulfilling prophecy. Cruz win Iowa and either wins or finishes a strong second in New Hampshire, and it becomes a two-man race for the nomination. If the establishment-minded voters stay with Rubio/Bush/Christie/Kasich, then maybe Cruz loses Iowa, finishes in the middle of the pack in New Hampshire, and it is suddenly Cruz voters who find themselves having to choose between Trump and whoever emerges as the establishment favorite.
If Cruz is no better a general election option that Trump, then there is no reason for Rubio, Christie, Kasich or Bush supporters to rally to Cruz. It doesn’t have to be true. It doesn’t have to be true. It just has to be believed by GOP establishment-minded voters until the real voting begins.