The Trump treadmill was turned on high during the Republican front-runner’s blustery appearance at a CNN town hall in Milwaukee Tuesday night.
It’s a dynamic that has shaped support for Donald Trump throughout his turbulent rise in the Republican presidential race. A key to Trump’s hold on his constituency is his willingness to say things in public—about groups from undocumented Mexican immigrants to Muslims to women—that others would not say and then to defiantly double-down when criticized. That combative, unflinching talk has helped him convince his heavily working-class coalition both that he’s not a typical politician, and that he will fight by whatever means necessary to reverse the economic and cultural trends that they believe are marginalizing them. But the serrated language and brusque behavior that electrifies his supporters has reinforced doubts about Trump among Republicans outside of his coalition, and especially in the broader voter pool waiting in the general election. This is the Trump treadmill: The faster he runs to solidify his hold on his supporters, the harder it becomes to gain any ground with other voters. For all of his furious activity, he is largely running in place, with any gains among the groups most receptive to him offset—or exceeded—by losses among those most skeptical.
The Trump treadmill helps explain why opposition to Trump, as the primaries proceed, is deepening, and not dissolving. It seems like a lifetime ago, but in late January thoughtful senior Republicans started to hint the party could live with Trump as a standard-bearer. Bob Dole, the centrist former GOP presidential nominee, told the New York Times he believed Trump would be a stronger general election candidate than Ted Cruz, who Dole said would precipitate “cataclysmic” Republican losses down the ballot. Trump seemed to make such consolidation inevitable by dominating the race’s early stages through Super Tuesday on March 1.