In the aftermath of Ted Cruz 97% routing Donald Trump at the Colorado GOP meeting, Trump and his allies have loudly protested how Trump was cheated out of his rightful share of delegates. Well, Trump better get used to it, because the concerted effort by the Republican Party at the state and national level to deny Trump the GOP nomination is only going to get more intense.
And it all comes down to one thing: The fear of Trump is gone. He failed to enlarge his base of support and his head-to-head polling numbers against Hillary Clinton are terrible. The Republican Party has clearly decided Trump is a loser and there is little downside in fighting him. This psychological shift in the race is the biggest obstacle to Trump winning the GOP nomination.
Trump’s success has been built on fear and intimidation. His opponents were afraid to attack him and incur his rhetorical wrath. The Republican Party was afraid to overtly or covertly oppose him, lest he run as an independent and throw the election to the Democrats. Without this fear, Trump is facing the necessity of a first-ballot convention win.
Trump is under siege and it stems from a major strategic blunder. Instead of working to broaden his coalition, he chose to build a personality cult combined with an "us vs. them" bunker mentality. His rhetoric plays to his existing supporters. He has made no consistent effort to reach out to traditional conservatives, pro-life groups or national security neocons. Instead he has used these groups as foils to more tightly bind his loyalists to him.
As a result, his share of the GOP primary votes remains abysmally low for a frontrunner this late in the cycle. In the first four states Trump received 32.7 percent of the vote. Eight candidates have dropped out and Trump has only increased his vote percentage to 37 percent. Never in the history of Republican or Democratic primaries has a frontrunner failed so badly in gaining votes as the field has narrowed.
Trump’s electoral weakness would be less of a problem if it were not for the composition of his vote base: Many are new to the GOP. What had been viewed as a positive has been transformed by Trump into a negative.
Trump has worked overtime to tie his supporters to him personally. He has stoked their anger at a political system that unquestionably let them down – but he has directed that anger toward the Republican Party. His efforts are geared more toward attempting to overwhelm the existing Republican Party instead of complementing it. That decision has set up a divisive dynamic.
The Republican Party clearly wants to expand its base vote, after all winning politics is about addition, not division. The problem with many Trump voters is that they look less like additions to the GOP coalition than unreliable "pop-ins" tied to the Trump personality cult. If the Republican Party cannot count on these voters in future races, then they are only useful if the GOP can win the presidency with them this year.
Which leads to the problem that ultimately kills Trump – he increasingly looks like a general election loser. Since December, Trump has consistently trailed Hillary Clinton in general election polling. In only two polls did he lead Clinton – both in December and by only one point. Lately his numbers have been cratering.
What the GOP is facing is the possibility that Trump will not only be defeated badly in the fall, but that he will inflict long-term damage by alienating millions of potential voters without adding a greater number from his supporters. An anti-Trump landslide could take down dozens of Republicans in the House and Senate. Ted Cruz may have his problems, but he is not nearly as threatening to down-ballot Republicans as Trump.
If the choice is between hitching a ride on Trump’s Titanic or boarding Ted Cruz’s Andrea Doria, Trump loses, hands down. After all, both ships sank, but at least most of the passengers of the Andrea Doria made it off alive.
Trump will likely have a good couple of weeks. He may finally go over 50 percent of the vote in New York and looks to win Maryland and Pennsylvania. But that will not stop the "Never Trump" movement. Trump simply has lost his leverage. The only way to gain it back is to quickly broaden his coalition and improve his polling numbers against the Democrats. Given Trump’s past, neither looks likely.