The Biggest Way the Media Is Misleading You About Donald Trump

May 10th 2016

Alex Mierjeski

The all-but-confirmed nomination of Donald Trump as the Republican nominee for the 2016 presidential election has caused a ruckus in political circles and has spawned headlines proclaiming the Great Splintering of the GOP as we know it.

But as much as Trump's insurgency as an outsider candidate has been a shock of ice water to the GOP field, it might be too simplistic to use his unexpected rise as an allegory for the party's general climate. Moreover, a look at races across the country shows that the party actually has a pretty healthy well of representatives.

Given this year's captivating presidential race so far, it can be hard to forget what's going on around the rest of the country.

A recent FiveThirtyEight survey of open-seat Senate and gubernatorial primary races showed that "establishment" Republican candidates — with healthy endorsements and financial backing, legacy names, and political backgrounds — were leading in states where the competitive stakes are high this cycle. That doesn't mean an outsider candidate couldn't mount a successful insurgency, of course, but it's a reminder that not all elections mirror the presidential one.

Broadly, the GOP field is well-represented, with more Republicans than Democrats registered to run for Congress, as the below FiveThirtyEight graph shows.

Congress Republican candidates

Those numbers are important to keep in mind as we get closer to the Republican Convention and general election — where Trump's position as the GOP pick could be finalized, and his candidacy ultimately tested on the national scale.

Trump's divisiveness has been a headache for Republicans as the reality TV star has surged to become the uncontested leader — and very visible representation — of the field. On the other side of the aisle, Democrats have looked on with excitement as the highly unfavorable business mogul has risen to the top, hopeful that it will boost Democratic chances in national elections, the New Republic's David Dayen pointed out.

Trump's candidacy could boost Democratic voter turnout in November. But it's unlikely to have a substantial effect in states with down-ballot congressional and gubernatorial elections, where traditional Republicans are leading in the polls. And that's not to mention the "thousands of critically important offices" in states all around the country, as Vox described them, already held by Republicans.

As FiveThirtyEight observed: "Party changes tend to occur from the ground up, rather than the top down" — and at least by some indications, there's a healthy chance that Trump's candidacy won't have as big of an impact as some might think.