Last Sunday, Marco Rubio voiced the conventional wisdom that guides much horse-race commentary about the GOP campaign: “Part of the dynamic up to this point,” Rubio declared, “is Donald [Trump] has been, you know, in the mid 30s to low 30s, high 20s, in most polls, and then you have 70 percent of the Republican electorate that says, ‘We’re not voting for him.’ But they’re divided up among five or seven people. So as that five or seven people continues to narrow down, I think it’s going make the race clearer and clearer.” Ted Cruz has said much the same thing: “Donald Trump … has a passionate, committed base of supporters, but he’s got a ceiling—between 60 and 70 percent of Republican primary voters.”
Unfortunately for both Rubio and Cruz, they’re wrong. The idea that most Republican voters reject Trump, and what he stands for, may be comforting to GOP elites. But it’s just not true.
Start with Rubio and Cruz’s contention that 60 or 70 percent of Republican primary voters won’t back Trump. Once upon at time, that was correct. When NBC and The Wall Street Journal began asking likely Republican primary voters if they could support Trump last March, 74 percent said no. When he announced his candidacy last June, 66 percent still held that view. But by September, with Trump atop the polls, the percentage of Republicans ruling him out had dropped to 52 percent. The last time NBC and the Journal asked the question, in January, the percentage who could never support Trump was a mere 34 percent—not much higher than the percentage who said they could never support Rubio or Cruz.