Remember when Democrats Said A GOP Congress Would Be A Disaster?

thSorry Harry Reid and Barack Obama.  Your predictions a GOP Congress would result in a epic disaster has not come to pass.  Why, it seems Republicans in a year have gotten more done in a year than Democrats have in 4.  Let’s review the evidence shall we.

The Doc Fix: In early to mid 2014 John Boehner made a stunning pronouncement.  He had a deal to permanently fix the Doc Fix.  A little history is in order.  Since Medicaid was created doctor reimbursement rates have been pegged to inflation.  However, inflation does not come close to the real cost of care.  Individuals on Medicaid thus would have seen doctors turn them away if “fixes” did not occur every year because doctors would have been reimbursed far less than the cost of the service.  Short of major reform of Social Security and Medicare this is the biggest reform of a major entitlement in decades.

No Child Left Behind: This issue united both Democrats and Republicans.  Fed with the right’s loathing of Common Core and education unions and suburbanites distaste for make or break tests the end of No Child Left Behind was going to happen at some point.  The question was when?  Republicans worked with Democrats to create a bill that have states greater control over testing standards as well as rolled backed the Dept. of Education’s role in education.  Ironically, such a rollback did not phase big government liberals who overwhelming backed the final package.

The Budget and Tax Cuts: This one pleased nobody but it did get Republicans over a major Presidential hump.  From now until 2017 the budget will not be a major issue giving the ultimate GOP Presidential nominee some wiggle room when it comes to how they would govern.  It’s also true he/she can rail against the deal to rally the base but also not have to worry about moderates being turned off by crisis governing.

The budget deal fulfilled many requirements.  It ended sequestration, pumped billions more into the defense budget and finally made permanent many of the decades old end of year tax breaks Congress has approved annually.  Republicans might have lost the battle on spending for now but it is a step in winning the war.

Transportation: A major initiative to clear the decks for the 2016 legislative session was the catalyst for the effort.  States were in danger of losing their federal funding for roads, bridges, etc. if a major transportation bill was not passed.  Republicans did not want to increase the gas tax.  Democrats did not want to find a pay for.

In the end Republicans gave up on the pay for and Democrats relented on a tax increase.  Notably the 5 year bill was the first multi-year long transportation funding effort since Bill Clinton.

Surveillance: This split the Caucuses along ideological lines.  Libertarian leaning Republicans in the House and Senate combined with liberals killed the bulk data program.  However, leadership, along with the President is likely to bring it back as both McConnell and Ryan support the program.

There were numerous other items that came and went this year.  The Export-Import Bank was killed last year but brought back up and funded as a policy rider to an unrelated bill.  Efforts to defund Planned Parenthood failed and stringent requirements to ban (not vet) refugees from several Mideastern nations failed.

Contrast this with a Democratic efforts.  Democrats passed the ACA and Dodd-Frank.  They signed equal pay legislation.  Yet, they failed to reform entitlements, fund transportation, curb spending, etc.  This with four years of unfettered control of Congress.

Republicans have proven they can govern.  Only the most diehard liberal would deny this reality.  Now Congressional Republicans have to sell this message in purple states and districts if they want to continue to govern beyond next year.

Note: Harry Reid now looks like the worst leader in modern history.  Not only did he prevent popular legislation from coming to the floor for 4 years but he let his arch-rival claim more legislative victories in a year than he did in 4.  Nice job Harry.


The Ideologically Diverse Republican Party

four-rebuplicans_3453891kIt wasn’t long ago the Republican Party was a ideologically homogeneous party or at least a party close to it.  From the 50’s to the 70’s the party was composed to moderates and conservatives (okay, and a few liberals).  The rise of the suburbs and Roe vs. Wade introduced two new factions into the GOP.

The election of 1980 brings the modern day Republican Party into focus.  That cycle, Reagan’s landslide victory was forged on the backs of security hawks, fiscally conservative suburbs, secular and middle class blue-collar Democrats, religious voters and libertarians.

The numbers of each of these groups has changed over time within the party but they have largely guided its course since Reagan.  In virtually every election, one of these groups has nominated their own (sometimes individuals group’s support overlapping).

H.W was the hawks and suburbs choice.  Dole was the choice of hawks and libertarians (why, I don’t know).  George Bush has the distinction of seeing his coalition of voters shift in his two terms.  Bush was the choice of the suburbs, libertarians and religious voters.  Come 2004, hawks warmed up to Bush, libertarians not so much and religious voters stuck with him.  McCain was the suburbs and hawks choice as was Romney.

This is of course only one interpretation of the modern factions that dominate the GOP.  There are others.  One well accepted view by Henry Olson is the party is made up of 4 distinct factions-moderate/liberal voters, somewhat conservative voters, very conservative religious voters and very conservative secular voters.  The most simplistic and talked up is the establishment vs. insurgent (I bet any party has more than two wings though).

Each faction within the GOP has its own goals and objectives.  In the past they tended to coincide with each other.  If we take Olson’s view of the GOP coalition than somewhat conservative voters sided with moderates on taxes and spending.  Very conservative religious voters often had no problem expanding the state to protect the family.  Very conservative secular voters didn’t care about the size of the government if they got theirs and the country was safe.

But these factions historically operated in a fairly stable economic and political environment. The threat of the communism kept their minds focused on one international boogieman for decades.  The economy largely grew apace even after major recessions or outside events (oil embargo anybody).

Today, that environment is an artifact of history.  The USSR fell in 1991 and the economic pie is simply not big enough to give everybody what they want more.  In both 2008 and 2012, Republican Presidential nominees ran as if the political environment was pre-2007.  This election, reality is catching up with the party.

The largely imagined homogeneous coalition the GOP has pretended they had has now splintered and the party’s social and fiscal cleavages have been laid bare.

It’s no surprise this cycle Republican candidates would notice.  Donald Trump is no genius, but he knew the largest social cleavage dividing the party was immigration.  But, not just illegal immigration.  Oh no, it goes deeper.  Immigration in general from H1 Visas to who we accept immigrants from divided the party.

The size and scope of government, once considered to unify the party has split it open.  Supporters of Trump, very conservative secular voters, aka Reagan Democrats, largely don’t care about its size as long as they get theirs.

On highly contentious religious and moral values the religious right is invested in fighting gay marriage and limiting abortion.  The donor class/K-Street would like to pretend abortion does not happen anymore.

National security since Bush has been the party’s biggest fault-line.  Bush started out promising a humble foreign policy and turned into a nation building hawk.  In 2008, hawks got their nominee in McCain but a mere two years later the Senate GOP ranks were filled with libertarians like Rand Paul and Mike Lee.  Paul is furthering the GOP debate over foreign policy.  Cruz, a rising star and one of the likeliest to carry the GOP banner in 16 has smartly positioned himself between Paul and Rubio (a hawk’s hawk).

These are not small disagreements a party can paper over.  When you have a coalition whose interests overlap you can win.  But when you don’t you have to cobble together voters on a host of issues and convince them the issues they agree with you on are bigger than those they don’t.  While Democrats have their own internal schisms (inequality, war) their divide is currently fr smaller than the GOP’s.

It’s proving to be a challenge for every Republican in the presidential field.  Trumps small lead is built on the backs of blue-collar, secular, very conservative voters who care little about gay marriage, abortion or the size of government and spending.  Only who the spending and government benefits.

Cruz’s rise is due to the power of evangelicals and somewhat conservative voters worried about the size of the state and abortion.  Rubio has his foot in the door of moderates, hawks and conservatives.

Unifying such an unwieldy coalition by next summer will be a challenge.  Republicans know they need a candidate who can appeal to all wings of the party but in truth no candidate can.  Rubio would turn off blue-collar, secular voters and libertarians.  Cruz would turn off moderates and secular voters.  Trump would bring out the Reagan Democrats but not the hawks or fiscal conservatives.

This has led at least one campaign to “deepen” the party’s coalition not expand it.  The Cruz camp is all in on betting their election on a groundswell of evangelicals rising up to elect their choice.  It helps he has also made clear overtures to the party’s secular and hawkish wings.  But, like Paul, he has crossed the party’s donor class and will struggle to win over moderates/liberals with his abrasive rhetoric.

The establishment/party leadership is still betting on a more conventional nominee like Rubio or Bush coming through in the end.  They would be the candidates “likely” to expand the party’s reach (assuming they hold Romney’s 2012 coalition together).

Republicans might be helped by outside events.  The rise of ISIS and the terror attacks in Paris combined with the Obama administration’s anemic response has allowed the nimbler nominees to pivot the campaign onto a largely unifying issue for almost every wing of the party (sorry libertarians).

It worked for Bush. In 2000, Bush’s election was largely anemic.  If not for the electoral college we’d be saying President Gore.  But 9/11, Afghanistan and Operating Enduring Freedom allowed him to reach not just into Perot territory but also Hispanic and Asian constituencies.  For all his faults, Bush is the only GOP President who simultaneously deepened and expanded his party’s coalition.

The GOP’s ideologically diverse coalition and the issues it causes won’t go away even if they win the White House.  But as Bush and Obama have proved, having your party’s nominee in the White House can go a long way to putting them on the back-burner.  At least in the short-term.


What Makes Trump Special

668528_GOP-2016-Trump.JPEG-0ad8eDonald Trump is a disaster for the party.  Just ask any pundit out there.  But that analysis misses the trees for the forest (to reverse a famous phrase).  It’s true that Trump is alienating a broad swathe of America, minorities, women, college educated Republicans, but it is also true that Trump is paving the way forward for the GOP.

How so you might be asking?  Well, to answer that particular question we must look at the state of the GOP at the Presidential level.  It’s not good.  The GOP does control the Senate and has a lock on the House for the foreseeable future but both are based on political conditions absent from the Presidency (House-districts leaning red and Senate control on domination of sparsely populated of red states).

Today, the GOP resembles its former self courtesy of the 30’s and 40’s where they lost five straight Presidential elections.  Republicans have only won the Presidency twice in the last six tries and the popular vote only once (Bush 2004).  Heading into 2016 the demographic and electoral headwinds facing the party are fierce.

But, the GOP also resembles the Democratic Party of the late 1970’s and 1980’s.  Weakened by ideological squabbles and internal debates the party’s only victory between 1976 and 1988 belonged to a former Governor of Georgia who ran a distinctly independent and culturally based campaign.  In 1980, after Carter’s defeat, Democrats nominated two consistent liberals who went on to lose badly in 1984 and 1988.

The party’s activist base was angry with the party after Carter and kept it from nominating candidates that were more ideologically in sync with the country (think support of death penalty, foreign policy hawks, reforming welfare).  Despite the best efforts of the party the base demanded ideological conformation which often split the party in two.

Somewhat similarly today, the GOP shares these issues.  Republican candidates are forced to reaffirm their opposition to same sex marriage before they can say it is a state’s rights issue.  Republicans are also forced to walk a tightrope on abortion, basically being forced to choose between absolutely opposing abortion in any case (even life of the mother) or be labelled pro-abortion by certain wings of the party.  Most notably, Marco Rubio was forced to walk back his support of immigration reform and now sounds more like Donald Trump.  In essence, the GOP’s ability to find a candidate that can exhibit a certain degree of ideological flexibility from their party is being severely hampered (just as Mitt Romney).

You could argue Democrats are undergoing the same situation this cycle and you would be right.  Moderate Hillary Clinton has walked back virtually everything she has done or said as First Lady (support welfare reform, balanced budgets, strong defense), Senator (oppose immigration reform and giving drivers licenses to illegals, voting for the Iraq War, supporting the Cuban embargo) and Secretary of State (hawkish defense views, TPP, etc.).  But unlike the GOP, Clinton is more connected to the Presidential electorate on cultural issues that transcend partisan politics.  Obama helped blaze this path for her and she plans to exploit it for all its worth.

Republicans, in a sense, need an Obama.  They need a candidate that can shift the rules of the game and take moderate stances in the nomination process, win, and not come out tarred for the general election.  They need a candidate that can win over base voters beyond ideology and demand their respect and votes throughout the long campaign.  They need a Donald Trump.  Just not this year’s version.

In 1991, Democrats found their Donald Trump, they just did not know it yet.  Bill Clinton, a little known Governor of Arkansas, catapulted to his party’s nomination due to his strong support among blue collar whites and blacks nationwide, particularly the South.

Clinton did not immediately pivot to the center in the general election.  He didn’t need to.  He won the Democratic nomination as a centrist.  His history of working with the black community, being ingrained in their culture while simultaneously showing he maintained support for downscale white policy preferences allowed him to talk welfare reform, balanced budgets and reforming Healthcare in the primary.  The centrist Democratic Leadership Council, which had advocated such a strategy since the early 80’s, was finally proven right.

The proof was in the 1992 Presidential election.  Though some argue Clinton won only because of Ross Perot polls show that Perot votes split down the middle between Bush and Clinton.  Clinton had signaled to white voters that he was a “New Democrat” in the mold of Jimmy Carter and willing to challenge the entrenched liberal and black wings of his party.  Clinton initially went left after his election and was rebuked for it in the Republican Revolution.  But in 1996, after working with a GOP Congress to get welfare reform, voters (black and white) rewarded him with a resounding 9 percent win.  Between 1980 and 1988 Democrats lost the white vote by over 20 percent.  Clinton lost the white vote to Bush by 2 percent in 1992 and 1 percent in 1996.  Democrats have never been so strong among the group since.  In a way, Clinton’s persona mattered more than ideology.

Enter Trump.  Today, Trump is polling around 25 percent in all four early states and nationally.  His support has largely remained unchanged since August no matter what he says.  Insult veterans.  No damage.  Pick fights with Jeb Bush.  No problem.  Insult the views of evangelicals and minorities.  No bad.

It is telling that many Republicans have largely dropped their litmus test attacks on Trump.  Jeb Bush based his campaign on it to no avail.  Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and John Kasich have all tried and failed to dislodge the Donald’s support with varying themes of “he’s a liberal” to “he supports abortion” to “he donated to Clinton.”  No impact.

Just look at who Trump is.  A former Democrat as recently as 2012 who has donated to dozens of Democrats, Clinton included, and in his own words used to be “very pro-choice.”  He supported universal healthcare and gun control.  He barely conceals he wants to raise taxes on the wealthy.

Trump says he has since seen the light.  But on many cultural issues important to the base he seems not to.  He called gay marriage a “settled issue” and said at a campaign stop in Iowa he has never asked God for forgiveness.  No wonder Rubio, Cruz and Carson are winning evangelicals today.

But evangelicals are not and have never been Trump’s constituency.  His constituency is that of the “forgotten voter.”  The man that feels his blue-collar roots are insulted.  The Iowan farmer angry at the PC, “I can’t call it what it is culture” of America.  These voters are willing to give Trump a pass, a special absolution, they have not offered to other candidates in the past.

Part of it is his style.  Trump supporters love the fact he’s blunt, unpackaged and not polished.  They don’t mind during debates that he appears flustered over foreign policy and woefully unprepared to be Commander-in-Chief.  In fact, they will even hate Fox News for him.

When Bloomberg’s John Heilemann asked Trump backers in New Hampshire what they thought of him the responses he received were, among others, He speaks the truth,” He doesn’t care what people think,” “He’s unchoreographed,” “He is honest,” “I like his roughness,” and “He’s not a politician.”  Indeed, the New York Times and many analysts consider Trump’s staying power a tribute to his personality and style, not his policy preferences.

Trump benefits from his outsider status.  Like Carson and Fiorina he has the benefit of running against political interests despite being involved in it for decades (just not in the elected way).  Again, in New Hampshire, supporters were impressed by his business exploits and viewed his brand as synonymous with “winning.”

Trump’s no fool.  He did not get rich for nothing nor has he cultivated a business empire without being savvy.  The issues of the day have fueled his rise and he has exploited them well.  His incessant focus on the border and illegals has struck a chord with the blue-collar voter that feels the culture of the country is changing.  In its simplest terms, Trump has captured the hearts of the voters who feel like “I obey the laws, why cannot everybody else?”

Due to his lead in a scattered GOP field, most polls show him leading on not just the issue of illegal immigration but terrorism and the economy.  However, Trump has almost 100 percent name ID while many candidates not named Bush are still building their name recognition.

Trump has forged a connection with Republicans that transcends typical issues.  Okay, at least a quarter of self-identified Republicans.  Admittedly, what these voters like about Trump are what turns the rest of the GOP and much of America away from the mogul.  The GOP does not need the Trump of today.  They need the Trump of the future.

In Marco Rubio’s candidacy much of Trump’s appeal is present.  He does not have the gruff edges and is much more polished but his story of immigrant success appeal to the broader base of the GOP.  It helps he also fits comfortably within the party’s ideological tent (minus immigration).

The party could also look to the states to find a future Trump.  In California, Republicans pulled off a twofer when they recalled Democratic Governor Gray Davis and also convinced Arnold Schwarzenegger to run as a Republican.  Sure, he was not that conservative, but he governed far more right of center over his two terms than Democrat would have.  Conservatives were drawn to his pull on such an issue.  In New Jersey in 2009, Chris Christie ran as pro-life and anti-gay marriage, but he did not need to specifically state these things (except to brag) to get base support.  In turn, Independents felt he was not an ideologue and pulled the lever for him.  Last year, in Massachusetts, Illinois and Maryland, the base coalesced around socially liberal but fiscally conservative candidates and allowed party nominees to woo the center on calls for returning to fiscal responsibility.

Maybe Eisenhower offers the GOP the best path forward.  Between 1932 and 1952 the GOP lost 5 straight Presidential elections on average by big margins.  But Eisenhower used his persona and personal appeal to overcome serious deficiencies within the party.

Republicans had long attacked the New Deal for its expansion of government, spending, and role in people’s lives.  While the Supreme Court struck down some aspects of the era and the public rebuked the Presidents FDR and Truman they never abandoned their loyalty to the candidates or their efforts.  In every Presidential election it seemed Republicans overplayed their hand.

Republicans needed somebody from outside the system.  Somebody with an appeal that transcended the bloody battles over the New Deal and new political fabric of the nation.  Somebody who accepted the welfare state but did not embrace it.

Both parties lobbied fiercely for Eisenhower’s loyalties but in the end he ran as a new kind of Republican.  One not beholden to many interests.  In his announcement in January 1952, Eisenhower chided Democrats for spending so much but he also offered no critique of the welfare state.  That election, Eisenhower carried every region but the South.

Of course, doing this and finding such a candidate are much harder.  The creation of the Internet and all it has spawned have made being an outsider a harder claim to keep.  Further, ideological interests are far more entrenched in politics than 1952 thanks to campaign finance, outside spending, and primaries and caucuses.

But that does not mean it’s impossible.  Marco Rubio is probably the best short-term solution to the GOP’s issues.  Heck, even Ted Cruz might be a temporary patch.  Long-term, the party should be looking to somebody who speaks to both the past and the future.  A candidate in which Americans can find things to relate to more than just ideology.

Despite his ideology and rhetoric Trump has given America a glimpse into something new but not new.  Voters, even highly ideological ones, are more than the sum of their issue positions.  They also vote their values, relations and cultural feelings.  They want somebody who relates to them personally.  They want somebody with a business background.

Rectifying such conflicting feelings within a divided GOP is difficult.  The party’s college educated future base want a candidate who inspires and talks about what is right with America.  The party’s blue-collar base wants a candidate who embodies the America they grew up in and feel is slipping away.

When the GOP nominates a candidate who can manage to thread the needle between these feelings and do so in a way that does not disrespect or turn off the general electorate the GOP will have its Eisenhower, its Schwarzenegger, its future Reagan!

Pennsylvania: The First Blue Rustbelt Fire Wall State to Fall?

electoral-mapPennsylvania has long been a stalwartly Democratic state at the Presidential level.  Indeed, since 1988 the state has voted for the Democratic Presidential nominee by no less than 3 percent every time.  But, if the polls are accurate, the winds of change might be blowing in the rapidly aging and diversifying blue state.

First, let’s start with what makes Pennsylvania what it is politically.  Today, the state can be said to be made up of three regions, the formerly blue West, the deeply red mid central and the purple to light blue Southeastern Philly suburbs (including deeply blue Philly city).  The Western region of the state used to be the strongest Democratic region of the state but as many counties populations have aged they have become more Republican culturally and fiscally.  The center of the state has been referred to the “Alabama of the North” and has always been solidly red.  Since 1988 the real battle in the state has been for the Philly suburbs.

In a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans by the hundred of thousands it would seem that Republicans would not be competitive at any level.  But, just as in the South, registration numbers are deceiving.  Many registered Democrats are based in the West and have abandoned the party at increasing rates.  From 1988 to 2012 Republican have gradually turned the West into a solid shade of red.  Republicans have actually made registration inroads in the highly competitive suburbs as well.

Republicans historically dominated the state from 1972-1988.  The party only lost the state once in 1976 and by a mere few percentage points.  Republicans did this by dominating the Philly suburbs and winning most of the rest of the state.  The Presidential election of 1988 can be considered a watershed moment in the state’s political bent.  It’s true HW carried the state but he did it by a mere 3 percent margin.  Bush’s margins were severely cut in the Philly suburbs and he survived off the votes of rural Pennsylvania.  In 1992, Clinton won Delaware and Montgomery Counties on the way to a nine percent victory in the state.  He was the first Democratic nominee to carry a suburban Philly county in the state since 1964.

That precipitated a political realignment in the state that continues to this day.  Today, the parties have essentially swapped coalitions.  The Democrats strength is not just in urban Philly and Pittsburgh but also in the Philly suburbs (fueled by out of state migration).  The GOP’s strength has only grown in the center of the state but also the formerly Democratic West.

Arguably, Democrats have gotten the better of the deal.  The majority of the state’s population and voters continue to reside in the Philly suburbs and Democrats have made greater and faster gains in the region than the GOP has elsewhere.  That is until 2010.  Though not a Presidential election the election cycle featured a US Senate and gubernatorial election.  Pat Toomey, the Republican Senate nominee, split the difference in the suburbs, winning Chester, Bucks, and Berk Counties.  His opponent won much more dense Delaware and Montgomery Counties.  Most notably, the realignment in the West was extremely pronounced with Joe Sestak, the Democratic nominee, carrying on metro Pittsburgh (Allegheny County) and losing all other counties.

In a higher turnout election a mere two years later the President dominated the suburbs.  Romney carried Berks and Chester counties but by small margins.  Obama’s victories in the suburbs were much larger.  The President also extended his victories into North Hampton and LeHigh Counties, formerly red at the state and Senate level a mere two years earlier.

The 2014 midterms were telling.  Not because the party lost scandal plagued Governor Tom Corbett.  Rather the party held all its suburban Philly based Congressional districts and maintained its dominance in the legislature.  It’s hard not to overstate just how powerful the GOP is at the state level today.  Almost a third of the Democrat’s Caucus in the House hails from Romney districts while in the Senate even if Democrats flipped all five Obama/Republican districts they would still be in the minority.

Since the state switched allegiances at the Presidential election (and federal level until 2010) the party could always count on increased Presidential turnout benefiting their party.  But 2016 is not shaping up to be historically normal for the state.  Early Senate polling has shown Republican Pat Toomey with the lead by varying margins.  Republican Presidential candidate Marco Rubio has a narrow but substantial polling lead over Clinton in the state.

I should add their are two types of Blue Wall States.  First, states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Minnesota thatt have backed the Democratic nominee since the 80s.  The second includes places like Iowa and Ohio that have traditionally backed the winner of the Presidency (red or blue).  So what separates Pennsylvania from the rest of the Blue Wall states beyond recent electoral results?

Its not just the polls mentioned above.  Republicans have made registration gains to close the gap to just over a 1 million vote Democratic advantage.  Add in the fact that many Democrats now vote Republican in the West (where Democrats still outnumber Republicans) and the GOP is close to its 2006 registration deficit of several hundred thousand voters.

This is not occurring in any other state.  Neither are the polls.  In Wisconsin, Republican Senator Ron Johnson trails his Democratic opponent.  In Ohio, there is no clear leader for the Presidential or Senate contest.  Short of local, single polls in Minnesota and Michigan, both states look blue.

Democrats can continue to comfort themselves with the fact that they still vastly outnumber Republicans on the registration front.  But they did in 2010 and 2014 and lost/failed to make ground in many aspects of state governance.  Meanwhile, Republicans have made clear they plan to invest heavily in the state.  The party held its Northeastern Leadership Conference in Philly in June.  Recognizing the power of the party might reside in red counties the GOP along with Third Party Groups plans to invest heavily in voter registration and turnout efforts.

Democrats enjoy a significant registration edge in the state and are likely to continue to do so until 2016.  But Republican persistence, weak Clinton poll numbers among men/Independents and a drop-off in Democratic turnout could turn the state red in 2016.  Stranger things have certainly happened in politics.

Trumpism: Not As Popular As It Seems

Donald-TrumpFor all the talk of Donald Trump’s demise his standing in national and state polls has never been stronger.  But it has rarely been weaker either.  Trump’s support has largely stayed static as support as shifted between lower tier candidates.

You would not notice this if you looked at recent polls including one in particular, the latest CNN/ORC Opinion survey. The survey is an outlier among outliers, showing Trump leading the GOP field nationally with 36 percent and Cruz next at 16 percent.  Few doubt Trump is ahead in the GOP race.  But by 20 percent?

Contrast the CNN survey with a Quinnipiac survey that found him with a more modest 27 percent of the GOP vote compared to Rubio at 17 percent and Carson and Cruz at 16 percent.

Then we come to the methodological issues that have plagued surveys since last cycle. Last year, polling dramatically underestimated GOP support in Senate and Gubernatorial races.  More recently, in Kentucky, both local and national polling was well off the mark in Kentucky’s gubernatorial contest.

These issues are certainly not just an American political issue.  Beyond last year’s midterms the polling also missed Israel’s right-wing Likud Party besting their left wing opposition.  It also substantially underestimated Britain’s Conservative Party support.  This year, the polling was dramatically off in Canada’s provincial and national elections.

But nomination contests offer a different set of issues, particularly national contests.  Specifically, the sample and sample size one uses in surveys.  Due to the unusual combination of primaries and Caucuses involved in Presidential nomination battles actual turnout can vary widely.  So while turnout in the Iowa Caucuses might be 10 to 12 percent of all registered Republicans in the state turnout in the New Hampshire primary might want a much higher percentage of Republicans turnout out.

The way many pollsters sample voters, random digit dialing (RDD), makes many question whether those polled will actually turn out.  Secondly, the weak nature of sampling filters at this time makes it likely some voters saying they are Republicans really are not or have limited interest in the contest.

Polls have already played an outsized role in the GOP contest.  Every major news network to broadcast a GOP debate has designed its criteria around polling results.  Many of the leading contenders in the GOP field, Trump, Cruz, Rubio and Carson have been able to stay in the debate largely because they have been able to broadcast their views to millions of people at one time (over and over).

By far the biggest issue with all polling (and Trump’s lead) is over the way polls assemble their sample of voters.  Assuming every Republican candidate has filed to get on the ballot, each can earn delegates in 50 states, the federal district and five overseas territories and each of those has its own rules about how those delegates are awarded.  Some have primaries that are closed or open to registrants of other parties, caucuses and party conventions in which rank-and-file Republicans don’t even get a vote, etc.

It’s thus not surprising that many analysis and Republican strategists feel the nomination battle is partly being shaped by voters who will not participate in the process and by inaccurate polling.

Republican pollster B.J. Martino took apart the CNN survey thusly and also described what is the issue with many national polls showing Trump with a wide lead, “They have a sample of 1,020 adults — and 445 of those they say constitute the Republican primary universe. Basically, their poll is saying 43.6 percent of all Americans adults are voting in a Republican primary nationwide. When you go back to 2012, it’s 12.2 percent.”

Put simply, pollsters are including in the 2016 GOP primary samples a group 3.5 times bigger than 2012.  Unless the GOP is in for a wave election that assumption is unrealistic.

Trump does have several things going for him this late in the game.  First, the typical accuracy of polling has been off of late.  Perhaps these voters will actually turn out for Trump after-all.  Secondly, national polls tend to overestimate the number of moderate and liberal voters who participate early in the process (Blue-state Republican primaries are usually later in the process when fewer candidates are left running).  The actual electorate early in the process is pretty conservative.

But Trump’s support is pretty consistent across most groups.  In the Quinnipiac and CNN survey Trump found pluralities of support among men, women, college educated and non-college educated voters, conservatives and moderates.

Trump’s support can largely be attributed more to his attitude than views.  A recent analysis by the WSJ found in polling from July to October that Trump had support largely from voters who were drawn to his view as a “strong leader” and less so on particular issues.  While predominately blue-collar, those open to voting for Trump split pretty evenly along class and ideological lines.

By not being a base candidate Trump can take unconventional positions on the usual issues and be fine.  In the recent Quinnipiac survey, 46 percent of Trump supporters said their minds were made up.  If true it indicates that Trump voters are committed to their candidate and turnout in the primaries and caucuses could easily exceed 2012.

Of course, that is a big assumption.  Assuming Trump maintains his leads in early states like Iowa and South Carolina is risky.  His current support among evangelicals may not hold by February and Iowa and South Carolina have large contingents of the group.  Also assuming Trump can in the SEC Primary and in Florida is a big “if.”  There, evangelicals often cut into the blue-collar wing of the party and it does not make as easy a path for victory for Trump.

Like-wise, by the time the SEC Primary is upon us (after the Nevada Caucus), the GOP field will be whittled down.  If it is a two-person or three-person by then the polling will be vastly different as will the size of Trump’s lead (unless he builds on his support which is unlikely).

Trump has upended the conventional logic this cycle and he does have the establishment worrying he could be the GOP nominee.  But it is still far from a sure thing he will be, especially when the polls showing him ahead have such a shoddy track record of late and are assuming a massive GOP electorate showing up for next year’s nomination contest.