Conservatives are increasingly subscribing to the Who Cares.... Certainly not Voters argument on the Mitt Romney-Donald Trump relationship.
Jim Geraghty summed it up in this tweet:
Can anyone find a single voter who says they were ready to vote for Romney, but now won’t vote for him because of Trump?
In one way, he's right, but in the way that mostly counts, he's wrong.
If you polled voters explicitly about the relationship, you probably wouldn't find a statistically-meaningful migration from Romney to Obama because of Trump.
In other words, voters wouldn't say: "I'm voting for Obama because Romney is Trump's buddy."
But here's where I think Geraghty is wrong.
These things don't show up in explicit polling questions; rather, they're all about an indirect effect and construction of a candidate's image that shows up in polls on other questions.
To explain -- back in 2004, no one would've told a pollster "I don't like Kerry's wife, so I'm voting against him."
But... there's no doubt that her image exacerbated the windsurfing picture of her husband.
And, so in that case, yes, her connection to Kerry probably hurt him, even though it wouldn't have shown up in polls directly asking the question.
The danger for Romney is that the Trump connection feeds into the notion that Romney is a rich, wealthy, out-of-touch guy who flies around on private planes and gets other rich, wealthy, and out-of-touch guys to support him.
So, really, the Trump Effect would show up on a question like this: "Do you think Mitt Romney cares about the needs of normal Americans?"
And on that question, Obama is beating Romney, and Trump might make it worse.
Last week, a Washington Post/ABC poll showed that 50% thought Obama would do more to advance the economic interests of middle class families than Romney. Mitt stood at 44%.
And by 68%-21%, voters thought Romney would do more than Obama for advancing the economic interests of rich Americans.
In other words, voters trust Obama on the middle class, and they trust Romney on the rich.
That fuels into the empathy gap that Romney already has.
Now... above all else, Trump has become synonymous with the kind of conspicuous consumption and flagrant, pecuniary arrogance that many voters resent.
When Romney ties himself to that name, it boosts the perception that he's a double whammy of "outness": out-of-touch and out-to-advance the economic interests of his allies.
So no, voters won't explicitly tell pollsters that Trump is leading them away from Romney. But that doesn't mean it wouldn't happen. Every data point matters when a candidate is being introduced to voters.
[Pic snapped by Holly Bailey]