Monmouth is out today with a new poll showing that Donald Trump is positively dominating Florida.
44% of likely voters in the Florida Republican primary back Trump, with 27% favoring Rubio. Given that Florida is considered a must-win for Rubio if he hopes to be able to even make a credible case for winning the nomination through a contested convention, it’s looking safer and safer to say that he’s done.
However, the topline isn’t the most interesting finding in this survey. We already knew Trump was winning in Florida. More interesting is Monmouth’s finding with respect to this question:
As you may know, Donald Trump cancelled a rally in Chicago Friday night where protesters and his supporters got into confrontations. Does what happened there and Trump’s response to it make you more likely or less likely to support Trump, or does it have no impact on your vote for the Republican nomination?
22% of respondents to this question indicated that Friday’s events made them more likely to vote for Trump.
11% indicated that it made them less likely to vote for Trump.
66% said that it didn’t affect their decision.
This two-to-one margin in favor of Trump amounts to a data point in favor of those who say that progressives’ best responses to Trump range from staying outside of his rallies to doing nothing at all other than voting against him in November. If you become “part of the show,” it’s being argued, you’re doing more harm than good. So sayeth the data:
— Aaron Blake (@AaronBlake) March 14, 2016
I’m not so sure. This all seems like a pretty one-dimensional analysis of the situation.
For starters, Monmouth only asked the question about Friday’s protests to Republican primary voters. There’s no data (yet) on how the weekend went for Trump with the general electorate, but I’d say the odds are pretty good that it wasn’t nearly as sympathetic to Trump’s behavior. And since Trump is looking more and more like the prohibitive favorite to win the Republican nomination, we’re at least getting close to the point at which it’s time to stop evaluating these events in the context of the primary and start evaluating them in the context of November.
Second, again since this sample was limited to Republican primary voters, it’s worth pointing out that only 22% of respondents sided with Trump in an sample where 44% of respondents said they were planning on voting for Trump. Monmouth hasn’t released crosstabs for their poll, but I’d be willing to bet that many if not most of the respondents who approved of Trump’s behavior over the weekend were already in his camp.
Finally, and most importantly, a thumbs up/thumbs down question on the protests is a rather limited way of looking at what happened over the weekend. Yes, protestors shut down a Trump event, and in the current, backward understanding of the First Amendment that many Americans currently hold, exercising one’s right to protest amounts to an infringement of the free speech rights of the person being protested. So I get why Trump supporters, or even someone on the fence about supporting Trump, wouldn’t like the idea of people showing up to his events for the sole purpose of making it difficult for him to get his message out. I get why a plurality of respondents to Monmouth’s question sided with Trump.
But the news about Friday’s protests didn’t end there. Far more consequential than this weekend’s protests was the reaction they produced from Trump, who has since suggested that he would pay the legal and/or medical fees of counter-protestors who commit acts of violence on his behalf, tweeted out a bogus video linking a protestor to ISIS as fact and has openly threatened mob violence against another presidential candidate. None of these things happen without initial protests, and none of them make anyone other than the most ardent Trump supporters more likely to vote for him.
There’s a reason why protests work: As John wrote as he watched Trump getting protested at his rally in Kansas City on Saturday, “Trump is definitely looking annoyed, and he’s entirely off-script, just rambling at this point.” Done well, protests throw a candidate off-balance and, if you’re lucky, force them to drop their act. That’s exactly what happened this weekend. Trump wanted to talk in vague terms about Making America Great Again; instead, he spent much of the weekend talking in somewhat specific terms about how violence is good and the First Amendment is bad. That’s always been at the core of his appeal, but he’s usually able to say so in distant enough terms that people are able to make up reasons for themselves as to why he isn’t actually so awful. The more explicit and authoritarian Trump becomes, the less people have that luxury.
So yeah, I’m not buying the argument that protesting Trump at his rallies helps Trump. At least not in the long run, where it matters. Protesting Trump may enrage his own supporters, but it also exposes him for what he is: a racist, anti-democratic demagogue who prefers mob rule to the rule of law so long as he’s in charge.
Lots of people want to Make American Great Again, but not too many people think that’s the way to do it.