The minute the polls close following a contentious election, the first question on everyone’s mind is: who won? The question that is obviously never asked is: what won? That is because issues are never on the ballot; only personalities are on the ballot.
There are three indelible factors in politics that are often overlooked by those of us who live and breathe this stuff for a living. 1) Perception is reality, even if the reality is antithetical to the public perception of a candidate; 2) voters ultimately cast ballots for individuals based on persona, not a coherent set of principles; and 3) name ID is the single biggest determinant of success.
As a result, political commentators all too often think that because, in their minds, candidate A believes in one set of principles and candidate B believes in another set of principles, voters who chose candidate A desired those policies and principles over candidate B’s. Unfortunately, elections don’t work that way. Many voters have no idea where a candidate really stands on the issues and often think their candidate believes the very opposite of his real position.
Consider the following: By a margin of 70-20%, Trump supporters in South Carolina, according to a PPP poll, want the Confederate Flag to fly over the state capital. But here’s the kicker: Trump himself supported Nikki Haley’s decision to remove it! Again, perception is reality, even when the reality is antithetical to the perception.
More than 55% of South Carolina voters picked Trump and Rubio combined. But it’s quite evident from the exit polling and the mood of the electorate that voters did NOT vote for the following (positions taken by at least one of the aforementioned candidates):
In fact, it’s quite evident that voters want the exact opposite. The GOP electorate is larger, more conservative, and more religious than ever. And the 800-pound gorilla in the room is immigration. You can’t have a party that ignores its base on such a critical issue for over 20 years and get away with it forever. Whether Trump is sincere or not will be determined in the future, but his initial decision to jump on this issue has forever cemented his perception as the anti-establishment candidate who will fight political correctness. Three-fourths of the voters support a temporary ban on Muslim immigration, an issue we were proud to spotlight early and often here at Conservative Review – long before Donald Trump ran for president.
In addition, among voters to whom “shared religious beliefs matter,” Trump won a plurality, despite the fact that, in reality, he is not very religious at all. But he still won in a record turnout among Evangelicals. Again, perception is reality. And although Cruz won a plurality among self-described “very conservative” voters, Donald Trump still placed a close second, which means he is clearly siphoning off large numbers of the core base in addition to non-ideological and new voters.
At this point, Donald Trump is the clear front-runner. But what is also the front-runner are the principles and issues we’ve spotlighted for so long and will continue to do so, irrespective of who wins the nomination. Men are fallible, but principles endure.
Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.