It’s Déjà Vu All Over Again

By Cinzia Croce

“In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.” ― Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere’s Fan

It appears that the Democrats are experiencing one of life’s great tragedies: they got what they wanted. Throughout the Republican primary season, Democrat elected officials, strategists and commentators all agreed that Donald Trump was the Republican they wanted to run against in the general election, while Marco Rubio, they claimed, was the candidate they feared. A young, dynamic speaker who is also Latino posed the greatest threat to Hillary – said the Democrats pretending not to know that, just like any other Republican, Cuban Republicans also struggle to attract Hispanic voters. Whether they were sincere or simply trying to deploy some kind of reverse psychology is irrelevant at this point: Donald Trump will be the GOP nominee.

In recent weeks, polls showing Hillary competitive in deep-red Utah have been replaced with polls showing Trump competitive in deep-blue Oregon. The double-digit lead Hillary enjoyed against Trump in national polls has been reduced to a statistical tie. As polls show a very competitive race between Hillary and Trump, the bravado and confident declarations of a Hillary landslide have been replaced with shock at the speed Trump is uniting the Republican Party behind his candidacy. However, the Democrats still find comfort in the fact that their primary is still ongoing. Once Sanders is finally dispensed with, they say, their party will unify and vault Hillary well ahead of Trump in the polls again.

Perhaps. But Democrats should not find too much comfort, since current polls show Hillary is already drawing strong support from Democrats but trailing Trump among independent voters – the very voters the Democrats were counting on to be so repelled by The Donald that they would run to Hillary, begging to be rescued from him. 

When Trump launched his campaign nearly a year ago, many political experts predicted that he could never win the GOP nomination primarily because he was widely disliked by Republican voters. On the same day that Trump declared his candidacy, the Huffington Post wrote:

“Since he’s in the race — at least for now — here’s a look at the polling numbers that make Trump the Republican Party’s most disliked candidate. The numbers suggest Trump has slim chances of actually winning the Republican nomination. However, he has a decent chance of participating in the network debates later in the summer if his national numbers increase slightly.” 

Within a month, Trump raced to the top of the RealClearPolitics Republican Nomination poll average and maintained his lead throughout the primary except for a brief moment in November when Ben Carson surpassed him. The “decent chance” of making the GOP debates turned into a permanent center-stage spot, while the other more “popular” candidates fell off the stage one by one. Nevertheless, the same experts who were certain Trump could not win the GOP nomination because of his high negatives with Republican voters are now equally certain that he cannot win the general because of…high negatives, of course! It’s déjà vu all over again.

wendy-davis-memoir-jpeg-1280x960

The current presidential campaign evokes the recent past: the 2014 race for governor of Texas. Wendy Davis – the Democrat candidate – hoped to rely on women and Latino voters to carry her to  Governor’s Mansion, in much the same way Hillary hopes the same voters will carry her to the Oval Office. The Davis campaign, too, tried to portray her opponent Greg Abbott as a misogynist and racist, using his own words or the words of his supporters. A new Democrat group, Battleground Texas, was established for the sole purpose of identifying and turning out Latino voters. The campaign also featured Texas’ version of Donald Trump: GOP state senator Dan Patrick, running for Lieutenant Governor, who characterized illegal immigration as an “invasion” of potential terrorists and rapists. The Democrats were giddy, believing that Patrick’s harsh rhetoric would cause Latinos to crawl over broken glass to get to the polls to vote against Republicans up and down the ballot. Julian Castro, then Democrat Mayor of San Antonio, went so far as to characterize Patrick as  “our [Texas Democrats’] meal ticket back in.”

Wendy Davis and the Texas Democrats suffered an historic defeat statewide in 2014. Davis went on to lose the women’s vote by nearly 10 points and won the Latino vote by a lesser margin than the Democrat candidate in 2010. Dan Patrick even improved on George W. Bush’s performance with Latinos and actually won the male Latino vote.  Hillary has essentially taken the Davis campaign to the national level. Will history repeat itself?

My colleague Alex Knepper responds.

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