The latest CBS poll suggests that the Donald Trump juggernaut continues to roll, with 35 percent of Republicans supporting him. Ted Cruz, his nearest rival, garners 18 percent. Jeb Bush, the candidate who should have been the obvious choice if conventional wisdom about money and politics was even remotely true, is dead last with 4 percent. In vain does Ted Cruz protest that Donald Trump is not a conservative. Among those who describe themselves as "very conservative," 35 percent favor Trump, versus 30 percent for Cruz and 12 percent for Rubio.
In South Carolina, Trump is ahead among the evangelical voters Ted Cruz targeted as his savior army that would rise up to carry a true conservative to victory. According to a Fox News poll (Feb. 18), Trump leads Cruz 31 percent to 23 percent among evangelical Christians. And while Cruz leads among those who identify as "very conservative," it's a razor-thin edge (well within the margin of error).
As in New Hampshire, Trump leads nationally among a broad swath of voters: not only those with just a high school diploma (47 percent) but also those with some college (33 percent) and college graduates (25 percent). He is the preference of men and women, and among all income groups, including those earning more than $100,000.
Any number of theories have been advanced about the Trump voters — that they represent the downscale whites who have been abandoned by the Republican Party, or that they are enraged by Republican failure to secure the border.
But as noted, Trump does well among upscale voters, too. As for the great immigration rage, it's not all it's cracked up to be. Immigration was listed last among matters that were on voters' minds in Iowa and New Hampshire. Besides, Trump did well even among voters who said they favored a path to citizenship for illegals living here.
No, there's a better theory for why 35 percent of Republican primary voters are ready to hand the nomination to a bullying, loutish con man who accuses George W. Bush of war crimes while promising to commit some of his own (killing the wives and children of suspected terrorists and stealing the oil of Middle Eastern nations).
For the past several years, leading voices of what Matt Lewis has called "con$ervative" media, along with groups such as Heritage Action and politicians such as Sen. Ted Cruz, have ceaselessly promoted the false narrative that the Republican "grass roots" have been betrayed by the Republican leadership in Washington.
Rather than aim their anger at President Obama and the Democrats, right-wing websites, commentators such as Ann Coulter and Mark Levin and many others have instead repeated the libel that "Republicans gave Obama everything he wanted." There has been a flavor of "stabbed in the back" to these accusations. If not for the treachery of the Republican Party, they claim, a party too timorous or too corrupt to stand up to Obama, we could have defunded Obamacare, balanced the budget, halted the Iran deal, you name it.
Aiming fire at your own side can be very satisfying for radio wranglers, et al. They have zero influence on Obama, but they can take down Eric Cantor. They can't do much about Eric Holder, but they can dethrone John Boehner.
This is not to say that Republican leaders were perfect or that they couldn't have done more in some instances to put bills on Obama's desk — even if only to force vetoes and lay down markers for the next election. But the list of Obama initiatives Republicans thwarted is very long (universal pre-K, gun control, "paycheck fairness," higher taxes, etc.). Moreover, the bloc of conservatives in the House that refused to vote for any budget made it that much more difficult for leadership to exert pressure on Democrats. Lastly, who believes it makes no difference that Republicans control the Senate in the wake of Justice Scalia's death?
So congratulations to those conservatives who've been preaching about the "betrayal" of the base by the establishment. You've won. You've convinced 70 percent of the Republican primary electorate (per the CBS poll) that the most important quality in a candidate is that he will "shake up the political system."
With all its faults, the Republican Party is the only vehicle for conservative ideas in this country. Conservatives themselves, or at least those who styled themselves conservatives, may have sabotaged it, handing the reins not to a moderate, nor even to a liberal Republican, but to a lifelong Democrat.