Clinton in '98, Trump in '16: Protected by Voters
Voters are at times smarter than we pollsters think, and at other times, well, not as smart. In 1998, they showed us how smart they could be when they protected Bill Clinton from being removed from the Oval Office. Now, Republican voters are doing what they believe will protect the GOP from imploding: They are voting for Donald Trump to avoid a contested convention in Cleveland that could fracture the party and prevent it from beating Hillary Clinton in November.
With a strong economy, low unemployment and a rising stock market, Americans were not about to let the Senate convict and remove President Clinton from office. After the House of Representative impeached Clinton, the percentage of voters that approved of the job he was doing did not decrease; instead, it increased by 10 percent. According to Frank Newport of the Gallup Poll, Clinton’s highest job approval ratings throughout his presidency were during the Monica Lewinsky/impeachment scandal.
Voters didn’t talk to each other and say, “If a pollster calls me, I’m going to tell them I approve of Clinton’s job performance,” they instinctively did it without prompting. This was remarkable.
Now, I believe Republican primary voters are protecting their party. Just as voters knew they could avoid impeachment by approving of Clinton’s job performance, GOP voters have decided that the only way to prevent a disastrous convention is to line up behind Trump and give him the path to the magical number of 1,237 delegates. If the final poll in Indiana is correct, the front-runner will prevail in what everyone believes is Ted Cruz’s last stand.
In his desperation, the Texas senator also hurt his cause by teaming up with Ohio Gov. Kasich to try to stop Trump. The “Crasich” team only increased the restiveness among an electorate already angry at the political establishment and not enthralled by talk of doing anything to stop “The Donald.” The most recent Indiana survey, a Wall Street Journal/NBC Marist Poll, shows that only 34 percent of likely GOP voters in the Hoosier State approved of the Cruz-Kasich pact, while 58 percent disapproved.
It also appears that Cruz’s decision to name Carly Fiorina as his vice presidential candidate has done little to help him. To some, it is apparently a further indication of his desperation. I believe that the Trump blowout last week, in which he carried every county in all five states in the Northeast—while winning more than 50 percent of the vote in a three-man race in all states—reveals the voters’ decision to go with the candidate who became the presumptive choice after a huge win in New York the week before.
A Trump victory in Indiana on Tuesday will put his winning streak at seven in a row, and will solidify his position further, putting him on the glide path into the nomination. Even delegates in states like North Dakota who were selected at conventions as unbound but thought to be for Cruz are changing their tune, saying they may well vote for Trump to avoid a contested convention.
After Indiana, other states thought to be poised to vote for Cruz, including Nebraska and New Mexico, will likely now go for Trump. Oregon, considered Kasich country, may do the same.
The analogy to Clinton’s 1998 crucible is the most apt one. After talking to their friends and neighbors, after listening to Rush Limbaugh, Greta van Susteren, Bill O’Reilly, Megyn Kelly, and Sean Hannity, Republican voters are making the decision that the only way to avoid a fissure in the party is to get behind Trump and follow him down the road to November.
Many party leaders around the country remain opposed to him, of course, and still say they could never vote for him. But, just as voters protected Clinton in 1998, regular Republicans have decided to protect their party in 2016. As a result, for better or worse, the race is over and Donald Trump will be the nominee of the Republican Party because he will win more than the 1,237 delegates needed for the nomination before the convention in Cleveland.