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Presidential Horse Race 2016: Is Trump-mania finally starting to wane?

I argued on Friday that Republicans would still likely unite after the campaign season to support the party nominee once they stopped beating on each other on a daily basis and fully concentrate their energy on the other “team,” chiefly in the form of Hillary Clinton.

While I still firmly believe it to be true, I also think we may have reached another marker in the 2016 Republican Trump Clinton trendrace, namely the point where Donald Trump has perhaps reached his ceiling of support.

Trump has based his campaign on the notion he could bring in non-traditional Republican voters and thus far, his populist appeal has earned him plenty of victories in states all across the country. As I’ve said many times, the people who love Trump are with him to the end. His message resonates with people who are fed up with the system and his caustic take-no-prisoners persona appeals to many more.

But it’s also becoming increasingly clear with each passing week that that “base” of Trump support isn’t growing. His winning share of the vote ticked up in Arizona last week, almost reaching 50%, but it is evident the non-Trump forces are gaining momentum nearly everywhere else.

W. James Antle III of the Washington Examiner writes, “[T]he antics that once led people to predict a Trump collapse do seem to finally be making it difficult for him to expand that core. Cruz now has a legitimate shot at upsetting the billionaire in Wisconsin, a state far outside the Texas senator's usual comfort zone.

“Organized anti-Trump voting may not have changed the outcome in Utah or Ohio, but it does seem to have swelled Cruz and John Kasich's winning margins, denying the Republican front-runner delegates from both states.”

Antle added that last week’s Trump Twitter assault on Heidi Cruz is making it even more taxing for some Republicans who might otherwise be open to Trump to get behind him. He’s digging an increasingly deeper hole and the nastiness of the tone in the campaign is going to be hard to overcome after the convention no matter how heinous Hillary Clinton happens to be.

National polls aren’t helping Trump’s case, either. The Real Clear Politics average shows him now trailing Hillary by over eleven points and the trend line has been going steadily down for about a month. Perhaps worse for him, this movement in the general election has occurred while it’s become increasingly clear that Clinton is going to be the Democrat nominee.

As Saturday showed, Bernie Sanders remains more than capable of winning individual states, but he’s still significantly behind in the delegate count for the Democrat nomination.

Meanwhile, the media narrative has been that Trump is way ahead and he’s virtually nailed-down the Republican slot.

Therefore, Trump’s fallen farther behind Hillary ever since people have started comparing the two head-to-head.

The Donald continues to insist he’ll bring his new people along with him for the fight against Clinton, but if so many have already abandoned ship by the time the national race even begins, it will be impossible for Trump to catch up.

“For Republicans, there is an unsettling possibility: that everything they predicted would undo Trump is finally coming to pass after it's too late to do anything to stop him that won't divide the party,” Antle concludes.

This could very well be true. I figured there would be a hefty dose of Trump-remorse at some point in the campaign and we finally may have reached it. Luckily for Republicans, it’s not too late – there is still a viable candidate in the field who can still win and fares much better against Clinton in national hypothetical matchup polls. That candidate is Ted Cruz.

Cruz has also seen a bit of a slide versus Hillary, but there’s still a lot of room for him to grow. He presents a much starker contrast to the likely Democrat nominee, presenting voters with perhaps the clearest choice between the parties since Reagan and Carter.

There’s no guarantee Cruz would prevail in November, but at least Americans would have a real choice.

Will the real John Kasich please stand up?

While American voters seem a bit confused as to what to make of Donald Trump’s odd behavior this year – whether he’s a savior of the American way or just a foul mouthed orange hot air balloon – people seem equally confused by the “new” John Kasich.

Kasich has gone out of his way to preach harmony in his campaign, calling for bringing people together to reach consensus on the hottest issues of our time. In doing so, he’s asked conservatives to be more accepting of the cultural changes in America, such as the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage.

The wishy-washy message may or may not hit home with the so-called “moderates” in the political center. But Kasich’s new persona is at odds with the reputation he’s earned through the course of decades and longtime associates are taking notice.

Thomas Kaplan, Michael Barbaro and Steve Edermarch of the New York Times write, " Mr. Kasich’s colleagues in Ohio and Washington…recall a three-decade career in government punctuated by scolding confrontations, intemperate critiques and undiplomatic remarks.

“Today, as Mr. Kasich makes comity a centerpiece of his long-shot bid for the Republican nomination, they describe his candidacy as an exercise in remarkable self-restraint that has managed to keep his crankier instincts mostly out of sight.”

Most politicians naturally try to put a positive spin on their own personalities in order to be more likable. I think even Donald Trump envisions himself as most appealing when he lets ‘The Donald’ out his pen, though I’m not sure what he hopes to accomplish by impugning Heidi Cruz or calling her husband “Lyin’ Ted” in the latest episode.

Kasich’s new public face is an entirely different matter than Trump’s, suggesting a change for strictly political benefit. There are signs he’s even enlisting the press’s help to keep him from going off the rails.

The New York Times journalists write, “Mr. Kasich seems sensitive to the possibility of a relapse, even warning reporters who travel with him to be on guard. After snapping at a journalist over an unwelcome question this month, Mr. Kasich apologized, and at a news conference later he asked for the news media’s help in monitoring his behavior.”

Asking reporters to keep an eye on you? That’s like letting the fox guard the henhouse.

I don’t think Kasich’s dual personality is as troubling as it is revealing. Trump and Ted Cruz aren’t trying to hide who they really are or tamp down the urge to lash out. Trump lets it fly, Cruz is intense but even-tempered. If we don’t know them by now after a year of virtually non-stop, daily coverage, I’m not sure what else can be garnered from further study.

The fact that Kasich’s colleagues don’t recognize the “new” guy should serve as a warning signal that he might be trying to keep the “real” man hidden.

What else is he trying to hide…?

California poll of likely voters shows virtual dead-heat in Republican race

With most eyes narrowly focused on next week’s Wisconsin primary, a new poll out of California shows it’s not too soon to be looking farther down the road to contests that could ultimately decide who accepts the nomination in Cleveland in July.

Kelly Cohen of the Washington Examiner reports, “Trump leads Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, 37 percent to 30 percent, among registered Republicans in California, according to a USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll released Sunday. Ohio Gov. John Kasich trails with 12 percent.

“But when it comes to those likely to vote in the state's June 7 primary, the race is a statistical tie. Trump is at 36 percent and Cruz at 35 percent among likely voters.”

It’s safe to say California is typically the trendsetter in many ways in America (good and bad), so it’s a little unusual for the Golden State to be the final arbiter in something as important as the Republican presidential race.

Californians may very well decide whether the Republican Party will be competitive in the general election or the figurehead of a suicide protest vote against the Washington establishment in the form of Donald Trump.

California is indeed now a liberal state, but also has real conservative elements to it. Once you get away from the coastline, much of the inland area is as conservative as you’ll find anywhere in America. This is natural ground for both Trump and Cruz, as there may not be another state in the country that’s been impacted as highly by illegal immigration (from all regions of the world, not just Mexico).

In this sense, think about the results in Arizona.

To those who are familiar with California’s unique issues, the influx of migrants together with the outward flow of more conservative business elements has led to a state completely dominated by Democrats. The result? Massive annual budget deficits and the levers of government being pulled by public employee unions and immigrant rights groups.

My prediction (I’m from there, so I know a little about it): there will be a huge backlash from the dwindling numbers of Republicans in the state, which will favor Trump. But if Cruz carries strong momentum into the state, look for Californians to give him a sizable win.

We’ll have to wait over two more months to find out.

Clinton and Sanders have stopped calling each other

Finally today, though quite a bit less interesting or headline grabbing, there seems to be growing tension on the Democrat side as well, demonstrated best by a definite lack of congratulations following victories from the other side of late.

Bernie didn’t call Hillary after some of her big wins. And Hillary didn’t call Bernie this past Saturday after he swept three western states.

Is it a big deal or just politics? Or, perhaps something larger?

Annie Karni of Politico reports on the nature of the conflict being fostered by the Sanders campaign. “’I think there is a much meaner culture in the Sanders campaign than people realize,’ said Clinton donor Eleni Kounalakis, a former ambassador to Hungary, who said her family was bullied by Sanders supporters while volunteering for Clinton in Nevada.

“’The Berners are very aggressive, and that kind of culture has to be validated to some degree from the top,’ she said. ‘My feeling is he doesn’t address these people at the end of the night because if he sends a message of graciousness to his people, that’s going to take the fire out of the aggressive approach.’”

The Democrats aren’t exactly stooping to the Trump level of insulting each other’s spouses, but they’re not holding hands and singing ‘Kumbaya’ in liberal land either.

It looks like the Democrat establishment harbors some of the same concerns about Sanders’ supporters as they do about Trump’s.

Politics is a dirty business, isn’t it?

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