Love him or hate him — and mostly they love him — Donald Trump's candidacy will have increased Republican primary turnout by 14 million votes over the 2012 levels.
With a bit more than half the primaries completed, 19.4 million people have voted thus far in GOP primaries, slightly more than the total of 19.3 million in all of the 2012 primaries. The Republican primary turnout is on a pace to reach 33 million voters — a 75 percent increase in turnout.
The vast new turnout reflects the massive number of voters who are first time participants in Republican primaries, drawn out to vote by the Donald Trump candidacy. In the Michigan primary, for example, The New York Times exit poll showed that half of those who turned out reported never having voted in a GOP primary before.
This huge increase creates both a huge challenge and a major opportunity for the Republican Party in 2016.
Turnout was the key to the Republican defeat in 2012. Turned off by Mitt Romney, the total voter turnout among eligible voters dropped from 62.3 percent in 2008 to 57.5 percent in 2012 as ten million fewer whites voted (counting increase in population) and four million more blacks and Latinos participated.
Turnout has been the key factor in moving the needle since the turn of the century. Republicans won in 2004 because George W. Bush and Karl Rove brought out 10 million more, largely white, voters than came out in 2000.
And they lost in 2008 when President Obama brought out 10 million more blacks, Latinos and single white women than voted in 2004.
But the process went into reverse in 2012 when more voters — more Republicans — stayed home and turnout dropped.
That's why Trump's success in increasing turnout is key to Republican prospects should he be the nominee. His demonstrated ability to bring people out in the primaries presages just the kind of star power that turned the elections of 2004 and 2008.
Conversely, should the Republican Party ignore the wishes of its 33 million members who voted in the primaries and resort to a boss-controlled convention, it will permanently alienate those whose votes it needs most.
The Trump voter is exactly the type that stayed home in 2012. In Michigan, for example, the exit polls show that his voters were disproportionately men who had not been to college. These blue-collar white male voters have long been the jump ball in our politics.
It was they who deserted the party of their fathers to join Nixon's Silent Majority in the '60s and '70s. And they were the Reagan Democrats of the '80s. Now they are becoming the Trump Republicans, and our party alienates them at our peril.