National Harbor, MD- American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp moderated a panel on the 2016 elections at the Conservative Political Action Conference, with The Washington Times’ Charlie Hurt, The Weekly Standard’s Fred Barnes, Brittany Kaiser of Cambridge Analytica, and Kellyanne Conway of The Polling Company.
The question of whether GOP voters have been betrayed was discussed, along with the question of where conservative voters will go if this claim is merited.
Hurt said that it’s a legitimate point. Democrats passed Obamacare; Republicans vowed to abolish it; and it is still law after retaking Congress in the 2014 midterms. He also mentioned that the GOP is very diverse, and Trump for better or worse–has shed light on this, adding the very mixed reactions to Trump’s support for “waterboarding plus” during this cycle. Some in the audience gasp with horror, while others cheer.
Conway, who fully disclosed that she supported Cruz, added that for conservatives, this is the election they have been waiting for for a long time. The question of electability is gone, and the candidates who were supposed to win have left the race. This also could be the year, where the GOP’s extensive political apparatus at the state and local level could yield some serious political dividends in the general elections. You have a nice bed of support when you control two-thirds of the governorships and have the most elected state lawmakers in office since 1920.
She added that turnout in the various GOP primary contests have reached record levels, people are willing to wait in line for long hours to cast their ballots, and enthusiasm is shooting through the stratosphere. It shows that voter engagement is high, and that people are paying attention. People are done with outside forces, the political establishment, the media, etc., telling them who to vote for in this election.
As for Hillary and the Democrats, Conway noted that the Democratic primary skewed towards women (58 female/42 percent male), while Republicans skewed towards men. Yet, she’s not afraid of Hillary. Male voters don’t trust Hillary–they certainly don’t like her–and that gap that Hillary has with male voters is just as serious as the GOP’s problem with single, urban-based women.
Now, what if Trump is the nominee? Will there be a third party challenge from the right? Interesting since the Republican Party spent countless time tying to persuade Trump not to do the exact same thing from the outset of his presidential bid. Barnes said that the party is opposed to abortion, mostly against the concept of gay marriage, so there isn’t a lot to detonate the party base unless Trump wins the nomination. He feels that conservatives will either not vote for him, back Hillary, or back a conservative third party bid. Schlapp expressed skepticism as to whether any serious conservative would vote for Hillary, but insinuated that a vote for a third party conservative could be viewed as a vote for Hillary.
In 1992, billionaire Ross Perot allowed Bill Clinton to beat President George H.W. Bush, nabbing 19 percent of the vote. Bush 41 views Perot as a spoiler who cost him the election–and to this day is still mad at him. Conway added that if Trump is the nominee, and Hillary wins the Democratic nomination, plus a third party challenger from the conservative orbit; it hands the election to Hillary. Full stop.
Concerning the tone of the election so far for the Republicans, Conway said that Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) attacks on Donald, his tan, his hands, etc., is un-presidential, though I would add that Trump’s remarks about Fox News’ Megyn Kelly’s menstrual cycle, Hispanics, the disabled, and veterans was probably worse. Regardless, Hurt said that while people get upset about the tone, Trump is doing well because of it. He suspects that the Donald would moderate his tone if he wins the nomination, but compare Trump’s bombastic aura to Hillary. He said you’d be hard pressed to find a single sentence in which she doesn’t lie; over-the-top rhetoric and blunt honesty compared to a candidate that’s cast, as dishonesty probably won’t be as detrimental as many are projecting.
As for defections, Conway mentioned that Cruz supporters would probably go to Trump, but returned to the tone regarding the campaigns–and Hurt’s observations about Clinton’s dishonesty. She mentioned that if you look at Trump, you see “make America great again,” making us winners, we’re going to do so much winning, like it or not; it’s positive. Hillary is all about fighting, and Bernie Sanders is all about a “future we can believe in,” which is very Obama-esque. Her point is that voters like optimism. Since 1972, we’ve gone for the candidate who’s more optimistic, and we’ve never elected a president a person who over 50 percent of the country felt was untrustworthy and dishonest.
Schlapp also added that it’s a bit interesting that we have two U.S. senators running for president after seeing less than one term, so it’s not a Trump phenomenon, as so much as it is voters wanting outsiders and a fresh voice. Conway added that no one is waiting for his or her turn; there’s no royalism factor here. Yet, she again stressed that we need to unite; we have to be smart; and we have to call out who is really is extreme in this election cycle (i.e. Clinton and abortion on demand). The Democratic Party has veered so far to the left, that we can beat them, but there are some on the GOP who need to let go of their egos, get it together, and defeat the Clintons.
As for shifting in the general, Barnes added that Trump’s rhetoric might make him unelectable since he’s alienated so many people. He could see Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) move towards the center for a general election campaign, but it’ll be difficult for him. Yes, Rubio’s tone has been un-presidential, but the most electable in the three-man race; Ohio Gov. John Kasich is hard to judge since he’s so far from winning the nomination.
Yet, Hurt said that Trump has brought a level of enthusiasm on the GOP side that we haven’t seen in a long time. One aspect about this race is that nothing should be expected, but also though that Rubio, Cruz, and Trump can al beat Hillary in November.
Conway concluded by saying that she thinks we will have a nominee before Cleveland, and that if Rubio drops out–it could be Cruz.