Is it really “Trump Republicans” that made the difference?

Yesterday Richard Falknor, who I gather is a Trump supporter, splashed a story onto his Blue Ridge Forum blog that asked whether the state Republican Party will welcome the 200,000 new voters that voted in 2016 compared to 2012. His conclusion to this?

Sending mostly non-Trump delegates-at-large to Cleveland will send a message that the Trump-inspired portion of the 195,000-plus new or returning 2016 Republican presidential primary voters are unwelcome in the Maryland Republican Club.

On the other hand, if some Maryland GOP nominees for the House and Senate endorse Trump now, they will be telling these new or returning voters they have gotten their message and should help with their campaigns.

I like Richard, but his comparison wasn’t a very precise one for a number of reasons. If you recall, the 2012 primary here in Maryland was conducted at a point where Mitt Romney had pretty much sewn up the nomination, so naturally turnout was less. In 2008, Mitt Romney was the last realistic contender standing against John McCain; he dropped out days before the Maryland primary. By percentage, in 2012 voting for the Presidential race involved about 26.6% of Republicans, while in 2008 that figure was 36.1%.

I would draw a closer parallel to the 2000 election, which occurred relatively early in the process. The Republican primary had 376,024 voters out of 769,329 registered Republicans, but I believe there was a caveat that year because the 2000 Republican primary was open. So it’s not the best comparison.

All in all, the increase from 2008 (the last fully open-seat election) to 2012 was about 9 percentage points – but how much of that was having a race that actually mattered as opposed to one which was anti-climactic? You really can’t argue that the Trump candidacy brought a lot of people to the GOP, either – from January to March the GOP numbers only increased from 974,602 to 997,211. That’s a nice bump, but Democrats added nearly 46,000 to their ranks and unaffiliated voters declined by a little over 19,000.

So here’s the thing. Indeed, Donald Trump won the state, probably in part because he campaigned here the most. But I’m not sold on the argument that he either drove new voters to the GOP or motivated them as much as the simple fact that Maryland mattered – all three of the top candidates were in the state at least once. In addition, some fraction of the GOP increase was likely from an “anyone but Trump” movement that probably benefitted John Kasich more.

Moreover, I’m getting more and more convinced that Donald Trump is electoral poison. Call me establishment, but I have this quaint, old-fashioned notion that the Republican candidate should be at least a little conservative, and there are millions of Republicans around the country who agree. The hard part of a Trump nomination will be containing the bleeding down the ticket, which is why so few of the GOP leaders and candidates in Maryland are embracing him. Governor Hogan, who most Republicans respect, is not on the Trump train. In my estimation Trump may be the most divisive GOP presidential nominee ever, even counting Abraham Lincoln.

Even if all 200,000 additional Republican votes came out just to support Donald Trump, it’s worth mentioning that Trump was over 300,000 votes shy of Hillary Clinton here in Maryland – and nearly 50,000 behind Bernie Sanders. Assuming all the unaffiliated voters who couldn’t vote in the primary came out, Trump would have to win at least 75 percent of them to catch Hillary and that’s not going to happen.

If there’s a choice to be made, let’s pray it’s one of bold colors vs. pale pastels, not Tweedledum vs. Tweedledee.

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