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A vote for Trump is a vote for Clinton

Like many Americans in this election year, I am angry. The difference is that I am angry at just about everyone. As a conservative Republican, it would take too long to catalogue even a small fraction of all the reasons for my anger at the way liberals approach government and citizens.

Like many of my fellow conservative Republicans, I am also angry with the Republican establishment for selling conservatism short, for not being aggressive advocates for conservative principles and for ramming through the nominations of milquetoast conservatives John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012.

But most of all, I am furious with my fellow conservative Republicans for being taken in by the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump, the billionaire egomaniac and celebrity game show host known chiefly for his bluster and rudeness or, as it has come to be known, his compunction to “tell it like it is.”

Why am I angry with my fellow conservatives for supporting Trump – or Mr. Trump, as he is known to his sycophants, as if that somehow elevates his stature? Let’s set aside all of the obvious reasons. If you don’t see him as entirely unfit to be president at this point, nothing I could say would convince you. Then there is the fact that Trump has virtually no record as a reliable conservative. He has indicated in the recent past his support for very liberal candidates and still takes liberal positions on some of the issues.

What angers me most about conservative support for Trump is that he is the least electable candidate whom the Republicans could nominate for president. In this era of intense party polarization, when Democrats are all gathered on the left and Republicans on the right, the differences among Republicans are trivial compared to the vast difference between any Republican and any Democrat. The electability of the Republican presidential candidate should not just matter to conservatives in picking a candidate, it should be the only thing that matters.

Everything else is irrelevant in comparison. Conservative Republicans should be single-minded about preventing Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders from becoming the next president.

Like him or not on other grounds, the fact that Trump is the least electable Republican is more than enough reason not to support him. Conservatives and the nation cannot risk another four or eight years with a Democrat in the White House.

Why do I conclude that Trump is the least electable Republican? Three reasons.

First, Trump has shown no interest or ability in building a winning coalition. In speaking his mind, he actually goes out of his way to offend other candidates and their supporters whose support he would later need in the general election. He habitually breaks President Ronald Reagan’s 11th commandment of not speaking ill of other Republicans.

When there is a bridge of cooperation to be crossed, Trump not only does not cross it, he sets it ablaze and does a victory dance in the ashes. He shows no sign that he understands or cares that winning politics is about bringing people together, even if it is just 51 percent. Election math is addition, not division.

Second, beyond those Republicans who support Trump for the party’s nomination, the rate of negative impressions of him are sky high, much higher than for other potential Republican candidates. Conservatives constitute only about 35 to 40 percent of the electorate. Trump may not get all of these votes, for many reasons, but his lack of conservative credentials are likely to whittle away at some of these votes.

So, to win, Trump needs to pick up some moderates. At this point, the likelihood of his attracting much moderate support is slim. His net favorable ratings among independents in a recent Gallup survey was minus 27. No other candidate was nearly that low. For instance, Sen. Ted Cruz was minus 3 and Sen. Marco Rubio was plus 4. Poll after poll shows the same thing.

Finally, there are the matchup polls that ask voters how they would vote in an election between one of the Republicans and one of the Democrats. Since December, according to RealClearPolitics, there have been 16 polls pitting the choice of Trump against Clinton. In these 16 polls, Trump comes out the winner only twice and Clinton is the winner in 14. Over the same period, there were 14 polls asking voters to choose between Clinton and Rubio. In these 14 matchups, Clinton wins only twice and Rubio wins 12 times. Armed with this information, why would any conservative in his or her right mind support Trump for the nomination?

A vote for Trump increases the odds that on Jan. 20, 2017, Clinton will be inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States. This thought ought to make any conservative ill. The fact that it could have been avoided should make them apoplectic.

James E. Campbell, one of the foremost experts in the country on presidential elections, is a University at Buffalo distinguished professor in the Department of Political Science. These views are his own.