by Karl Rove
He could win the primaries but would get creamed in the presidential election.
Donald Trump’s call on Monday for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” is unlikely to blow up his campaign. No matter how outrageous his statement seems to most Americans, his supporters apparently eat up stuff like that.
Forty-six percent of Mr. Trump’s backers say that their minds are made up and won’t change before the primaries, according to a Dec. 2 Quinnipiac poll. Only 33% of Ted Cruz’s supporters, and 23% of Marco Rubio’s, say that they are sure of their choice.
Apparently no matter what Mr. Trump does, he continues to poll generally in the mid- to high-20s, with an occasional survey putting him in the 30s. In mid-August he dipped to 22% in the Real Clear Politics average, but he hasn’t fallen below that mark since. This high floor, however, is matched by a low ceiling.
His antics—calling his GOP competitors “losers” and “clowns,” insulting Sen. John McCain for having been captured in Vietnam, mocking a reporter with a disability, crudely attacking Fox News’s Megyn Kelly—have made it difficult for him to grow his base. Almost as many Republicans (26%) told Quinnipiac that they will “definitely not support” him in the primaries as said they back him (27%).
The picture for the general election is even bleaker. The Donald’s favorability rating in the Quinnipiac survey was the worst of the 12 Democratic and Republican candidates tested: 35% favorable to 57% unfavorable. That was lower even than Mrs. Clinton’s 44% to 51%. Dig into the demographic breakdowns and Mr. Trump’s numbers look abysmal. Sixty percent of independents dislike him, along with 69% of voters aged 18-34, 84% of Latinos and 87% of blacks.
He and Mrs. Clinton were the only two of six candidates to be upside down on Quinnipiac’s question about honesty. The pair were nearly tied: 35% found the real estate mogul trustworthy and 59% did not; 36% trusted the former secretary of state and 60% didn’t. A Nov. 22 Fox News poll showed similar results. Mr. Trump was seen as honest and trustworthy by 41% of voters, and not by 55%. Mrs. Clinton’s numbers were marginally worse, at 38% honest, and 58% not.
But Mrs. Clinton beat Mr. Trump in the Quinnipiac poll on three important characteristics: By 67% to 32%, voters thought she has “the right kind of experience to be president.” His numbers were almost the reverse: 34% to 63%.
When Quinnipiac asked whether each candidate “cares about the needs and problems of people like you,” 46% said Mrs. Clinton does, and 51% said she doesn’t. If that sounds bad, take a look at Mr. Trump’s figures: 36% said he cares about people like them, and 59% said he doesn’t. Among Hispanics his numbers were 14% to 83%, and among blacks 9% to 88%.
When asked if each candidate “shares your values,” 42% of voters said Mrs. Clinton does, and 55% that she doesn’t. This might be problematic for the likely Democratic nominee, depending on who winds up as her Republican opponent. But, again, Mr. Trump’s numbers were worse. Only 35% said he shares their values, and 61% said he doesn’t.
All these numbers combine to make Mr. Trump the weakest Republican tested by Quinnipiac in head-to-head matchups against Mrs. Clinton, to whom he loses 41% to 47%. Among young voters, he loses by 20 points, 32% to 52%. He receives only 13% of Hispanic votes—less than half of what Mitt Romney did in 2012—to Mrs. Clinton’s 76%.
The Donald doesn’t compensate by beating Mr. Romney’s nearly 20-point margin among whites: He leads Mrs. Clinton among whites by only 12 points, 50% to 38%. So although Mr. Trump’s antics may not drive away his current supporters, they make him unlikely to win the White House.
Yet if the Republican field remains large and splintered through mid-March, Mr. Trump could become the Republican nominee by winning states with 25% to 30% of the vote. Then Democrats would attack Mr. Trump, a target-rich candidate, with an endless stream of ads.
Perhaps they would open with his immortal line from the Cleveland debate—that he had “taken advantage of the laws of this country” in having his companies declare bankruptcy four times. This footage might be followed by compelling testimony from contractors, small-business people and bondholders whom he stiffed. America has never elected a president with that kind of a dubious business record.
Donald Trump would be the dream opponent for the Democratic Party. We’ll see in the next four months whether that matters to Republicans.
Mr. Rove helped organize the political-action committee American Crossroads and is the author of “The Triumph of William McKinley: Why the 1896 Election Still Matters,” just out from Simon & Schuster.