Think of it as the nuclear option: deploying the most powerful and dangerous weapon available, the one you use when conventional warfare has failed. Just as with real nuclear weapons, that option carries clear risks, starting with losing the presidency in November, and ultimately threatening the party itself. But If a critical mass of Republicans and their conservative allies believe—as many have argued publicly, and more have privately whispered—that Trump could irrevocably undermine what the party says it stands for, and would pose a clear and present danger to the country if he ever attained the White House, it may now be their only chance. ... Trump has one glaring Achilles Heel: He can’t admit any failing, any mistake, any weakness of any kind. He tells us he has the world’s greatest memory; the “The Art of the Deal” is the second best book ever written (the Bible comes first). Without plunging into dime-store psychology, there seems to be a profound sense of insecurity, most of all about being mocked, laughed at.
Priebus’s mission at the RNC has been to manufacture some luck: to rebuild a party that lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections and lost power completely with Barack Obama’s 2008 victory. While Republicans traded recriminations after Mitt Romney’s loss in 2012, Priebus announced that the RNC would conduct a rigorous postmortem of all that had gone wrong and figure out how to refashion the party for the 21st century. ... The key to revival, the authors concluded, was to put a kinder, gentler gloss on the old stalwart Republican ideals (free trade, small government) while reforming immigration laws to entice nonwhite voters who were tuning the party out. ... By obliterating Jeb, Trump redefined the Republican Party’s identity off the top of his head. And his vision of the GOP’s future is in many ways the diametrical opposite of what Priebus and the party Establishment had imagined. ... A Republican Party that can’t stop Trump’s nomination may be no better able to resist his influence. If you’re Priebus, that’s a grim thought, because you’ve devoted five years, hundreds of millions of dollars, and every ounce of your energy to pushing your party in the other direction.
The US polling industry has been suffering a crisis of insight over the past decade or so; its methods have become increasingly bad at telling which way America is leaning. ... The classic pollster’s technique known as random digit dialing, in which firms robo-dial phone after phone, is failing, because an ever-dwindling number of people have landlines. ... whereas a survey in the 1970s or 1980s might have achieved a 70 percent response rate, by 2012 that number had fallen to 5.5 percent, and in 2016 it’s headed toward an infinitesimal 0.9 percent. And finally, the demographics of participants are narrowing: An elderly white woman is 21 times more likely to answer a phone poll than a young Hispanic male. So polling samples are often inherently misrepresentative. ... Today’s polling landscape appears so fraught that Gallup, long the industry leader, opted out of presidential horse-race polls this year; the reputational risk of being wrong was simply too high. Civis, on the other hand, promises a paradigm that could rescue American politics from confusion. ... Today, campaigns realize they have to look elsewhere for their intelligence, which has caused a major change in how the political industry functions. In the past, an entire campaign’s data and infrastructure would go poof after Election Day. Now Civis and similar firms are building institutional memory with permanent information storehouses that track America’s 220 million–odd voters across their adult lives, noting everything from magazine subscriptions and student loans to voting history, marital status, Facebook ID, and Twitter handle. Power and clients flow to the firms that can build and maintain the best databases of people’s behavior over time.