The Republican emeritus leadership seems to be breaking for Donald Trump over Ted Cruz as the lesser of two evils.  They reason that Trump is less extreme, less likely to cause collateral damage to Republicans in Congressional and state races, and more electable.

They’re also probably wrong, at least about the electability question.  Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com writes:

It’s hard to say exactly how well (or poorly) Trump might fare as the Republican nominee. Partisanship is strong enough in the U.S. that even some of his most ardent detractors in the GOP would come around to support him were he the Republican candidate. Trump has some cunning political instincts, and might not hesitate to shift back to the center if he won the GOP nomination. A recession or a terror attack later this year could work in his favor.

But Trump would start at a disadvantage: Most Americans just really don’t like the guy.

Contra Rupert Murdoch’s assertion about Trump having crossover appeal, Trump is extraordinarily unpopular with independent voters and Democrats. Gallup polling conducted over the past six weeks found Trump with a -27-percentage-point net favorability rating among independent voters, and a -70-point net rating among Democrats; both marks are easily the worst in the GOP field. (Trump also has less-than-spectacular favorable ratings among his fellow Republicans.)

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There’s loads more data in Silver’s article, but I will not crib any more of it here.  You will recall, Silver predicted how every state came out in the 2012 Presidential election, and he has no stake in the Cruz/Trump battle.

If it holds up, that -27 for Trump among Independents would be fatal.  According to Gallup’s latest numbers from January 6-10, a plurality of all voters – 44% – self-identify as independents.  It is not possible to win without even being competitive in this bloc.

Silver’s assessment that Trump would struggle in the general election is borne out by the latest polling.  Real Clear Politics has Trump losing to both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, while Ted Cruz beats Clinton and losses to Sanders, and Marco Rubio beats them both.  Huffington Post has Clinton beating Trump by more than she would be Cruz, and losing to Rubio; HP has Sanders trouncing Trump and losing by comparable margins to Cruz and Rubio.

Silver concedes that “[y]ou could plausibly argue” Cruz would be even worse in the general than Trump, because “Cruz would be the most conservative nominee since (and possibly including) Barry Goldwater in 1964.”

Polling at this stage is a bit of a blunt instrument.  Still, all of the data indicates Trump cannot beat either plausible Democratic nominee, and that he is radioactive among the independents who so often decide national elections.