Nate Silver on the Trump surge

Originally posted at AMERICAblog Elections: The Right’s Field

Following yesterday’s CNN poll which showed Donald Trump tied for the lead nationally with Mike Huckabee, Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight takes a hard look at the Republican race and sees a very flawed field. First, Silver makes a fairly useful distinction between the parts of the primary field who are approved by Beltway Republicans (Romney, Pawlenty, Huntsman, Barbour and Daniels) and those who are seeking to run through Tea Party and social conservative support (Palin, Bachmann, Ron Paul, Gingrich and Trump). Silver calls the first group the Fairfax Five and the second the Factional Five (left uncategorized are Huckabee, Santorum and Giuliani).

What’s more interesting is Silver’s observation that Trump’s surge comes through the counterintuitive path he has set out for himself as a candidate.

If Mr. Trump were going to run for president, it might have been more natural for him to do so as a social moderate but fiscal conservative, touting his executive experience and the virtues of free-market capitalism. Instead, he’s run far to his right, giving voice to false and misleading claims about Mr. Obama’s birth certificate, and reversing his prior, more moderate positions on gay rights and abortion.

Silver then looks at polling for the race and sees what we’ve pointed out here repeatedly: the Beltway approved candidates largely do not play well outside of the Beltway. Trumps rise has come at the expense of Romney and Palin. While Intrade betting markets give the Beltway approved candidates a better chance than polls currently suggest, they are hardly determinative. Instead, the current polling and Trump’s rapid rise by embracing Birtherism suggest the inadequacy of how most of the field is running.

If Mr. Trump, with such a cynical strategy, can rocket up in the polls so quickly, that suggests that the Fairfax Five and the Factional Five are both flawed in their own way. Instead, I suspect the value bets in markets like Intrade — and by extension, relative to conventional wisdom — are those candidates who belong to neither group.

The key to all of this analysis is that Mike Huckabee is at the top of the average of three national polls and Silver hasn’t fit him into either core of candidates. Huckabee doesn’t fit as easily into the boxes Silver sets out, in part because he’s already a well-known commodity among Republican voters. He doesn’t have to come to DC to get approval from George Will to be recognized by voters. He also doesn’t have to dive deep into Birtherism to get a media hit. If Huckabee decides to run, something which is by no means a certitude today, he will be able to avoid a lot of the baggage both of Silver’s cohorts have to deal with in order to pursue the nomination. If Mike Huckabee reads Nate Silver or this blog, I’m guessing he will be encouraged by what he sees.

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