A friend says: One of the bigger misconceptions among the Republican critics of Trump is the assertion that had the Republicans nominated anyone other than Trump that candidate would be cruising to victory over Hillary Clinton.
Aside from the scandals that may have been uncovered regarding any of the other Republican aspirants, the fact remains that with the sole exception of Cruz, who is unelectable for other reasons, the remaining candidates hewed to the neo-conservative foreign policy and military adventurism that was discredited by Bush – Cheney, and refused to take a hardline on immigration, arguably the most important issue within the Republican primary. Mickey Kaus consistently stated that if the Republican establishment wanted to defeat Trump all it had to do was embrace an enforcement first immigration policy and rule out amnesty. However, the Republican establishment wouldn’t give on this issue.
Cruz is the darling of the “constitutionalists” and the religious right, but those make up perhaps 25% of the Republican voters and an even smaller percentage of the national electorate. Aside from his personal issues (no one who works with him in the senate can stand him) his reputation as an opportunistic grandstander, his actual policy positions, especially on social issues, are way outside the mainstream of the U.S. today and perhaps even outside the mainstream in Eisenhower’s America.
Trump, on the other hand has done something that no other Republican (with the possible exception of Reagan) has done in terms of rallying white working class, lower class and middle class Americans who are feeling displaced by the actions of the Democratic party in its unbridled pursuit of identity politics. Trump has also taken social issues off the table despite the Democrat’s success in labeling him misogynistic. He hasn’t spoken out against same sex marriage. He hasn’t even opposed transsexual’s using the toilets of the sex they supposedly identify with and he has cast his opposition to Muslim immigration as one that protects gays. He has done this without alienating his religious right backers. His position on trade, protectionism, and immigration are widely popular. The reason he is losing in the majority of polls (there are two groups of polls: IBD, Rasmussen and the L.A. Times have the race tied; the rest of the polls have Clinton ahead from just outside the margin of error to double digit leads) is because he has been successfully tarred as an irresponsible, hot head, who is a racist and woman groper to boot and the Clinton campaign has successfully diverted attention away from the revelations of James O’Keefe and Wikileaks and others about her and about her positions, where the respective policy positions remain in the background (although last night’s debate did point out some of the differences.)
But there is no other Republican who would have been more popular than Trump. The only question is whether that Republican would have made it as easy to demonize him as Trump did and whether if the candidate were anyone other than Trump, the media would have spent more time critiquing Clinton. I don’t think it would have mattered and in the case of some of the Republicans, such as Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, would they have governed substantially different than from how Clinton might govern? I don’t think it would have made much difference on foreign or domestic policy. I think each would have weakened immigration laws more than Clinton will be able to because there will be resistance to her. There might be some marginal differences in Supreme Court appointees and in staffing of cabinet positions, but certainly no significant changes in direction.