While I rarely disagree with my colleague Paul, I pledge to offer him a four-pack of Colorado’s finest barleywine should Donald Trump win more than one Republican primary. I take the point about the persistent underestimation of Reagan, but Reagan was a very shrewd coalition-builder who became the de facto leader of the Republican Party’s ascendant conservative wing while being a two-term governor of a liberal state. Trump is just a bomb-throwing vanity candidate, the 2016 version of Hermain Cain. I also think that this class of Republican candidates is notably stronger than 2012, in which the far-from-sterling Mitt Romney ran effectively unopposed and struggled to win anyway. (Rick Santorum, the runner-up-by-default last time, is polling between Bobby Jindal and George Pataki among the one percenters this time.)
Does this mean that Trump’s candidacy is irrelevant? Not necessarily:
A new analysis by the Pew Research Center shows how quickly the partisan balance has flipped in the state. For years, the Cuban-American community, whose political orientation was dominated by a reaction against the Cuban revolution and an alliance with the Republican Party, defined the Florida Latino vote. As recently as 2006, Republicans still held a voter-registration advantage among Latino Floridians. In 2008, Democrats nudged ahead, and the gap has widened since.
How do Republicans plan to rebuild their standing in Florida? Nominating a Floridian who speaks Spanish would probably help. What’s not going to help them is Donald Trump.
A new Wall Street Journal/NBC/Telemundo poll finds that 75 percent of Hispanics hold a negative view of Trump. The danger posed by Trump is not that he’ll win the party nomination, an outcome that remains fantastically improbable, but that he’ll maintain a loyal following that Republicans will need. If Trump can avoid total self-immolation, he can force Republicans to give him a speaking spot at their convention, and generally treat him as a respected ally. That would be a poisonous outcome for the party, but Trump can probably obtain it if he wants to, because he can credibly threaten a third-party run that would make it virtually impossible for Republicans to win.
And even if he can’t keep the Potemkin shop afloat long enough to speak at the convention, he will increase the salience of immigration in the Republican primaries. It’s worth remembering that before Rick Perry’s repeated inability to speak coherent English sentences put his campaign out of its misery, Romney had delivered the fatal blow by getting to Perry’s right on immigration. That dynamic will, if anything, be stronger in 2016: it will be almost impossible to be too anti-immigrant in the 2016 Republican primaries. This is excellent news! for Hillary, not least because it is probably excellent news! for Scott Walker, who would be the weakest general election candidate of the three frontrunners.