[One] way to see what is being called the Trump Tax is to look at polling’s generic ballot question: It asks people whether they would vote for the Democrat or the Republican, with no declaration of the identity of those people....Vavreck thinks that the GOP did better on this question when voters could imagine a candidate other than Trump being the Republican nominee. That's probably true.
From autumn 2015 to spring 2016, the Republican was beating the Democrat in the generic ballot question. In January 2016, for example, the spread was seven points -- 39 percent for the Democrat and 46 percent for the Republican. As it became clear that Mr. Trump would be the nominee, the pattern changed and the Democratic candidate went ahead. By the end of July, the Democrat had 44 percent and the Republican 36 percent.
One way to view this reversal is as the price for nominating Mr. Trump.
But that doesn't mean that this is specifically a Trump problem. For most of 2011, a generic Republican was doing very well against Barack Obama, according to Gallup:
But then an actual Republican won the nomination -- Mitt Romney -- and Barack Obama won rather easily.
Here's the problem with the generic ballot question: Based on GOP propaganda eagerly retransmitted by the mainstream media, voters are led to believe that a generic Republican is a nice, responsible, reasonable-seeming right-centrist. What actually happens in Republican presidential primaries is that a nominee is chosen who's not nice or reasonable, or at least is doing a convincing job of persuading Republican voters that he's not nice or reasonable.
Republican voters despise niceness or reasonableness. They want someone who'll wrest America back from the usurpers who they believe have stolen it. They want someone who opposes abortion, despises non-white users of public assistance, rails against undocumented immigrants, rattles sabers, sneers at climate change, and promises to lavish tax cuts on the rich while suspending regulations on business. That's what Mitt Romney was as a presidential candidate in 2012, even though he actually was a right-centrist for a while when he was governor of Massachusetts. That's what Donald Trump is now.
I believe that John Kasich or Marco Rubio could have been really tough for Hillary Clinton to beat this year. But notice that neither one of them came close to winning the Republican primaries. The reason is simple: Neither one seemed nasty enough. If Donald Trump hadn't run, his runner-up, Ted Cruz, probably would have won the nomination, because he was the biggest hard-ass. Four years ago, Mitt Romney's runners-up were Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum.
These are the kinds of people who win Republican presidential nominations. They bear no resemblance to the mythic version of Republicanism we're sold in the media. So of course actual GOP nominees underperform their generic counterparts.