Donald Trump is running a somewhat unconventional campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. On Tuesday, the real estate magnate, reality television star and consummate self-promoter held a press conference in Northern Virginia, but it wasn’t to announce his policy position on a key issue of the day, or to weigh in on other matters of national significance. No, it was to unveil a remodeled golf course, which he named after himself, that charges members a nearly $100,000 initiation fee.
Trump may not be a candidate that most Americans can identify with, but in at least one early primary state, his campaign methods seem to be paying dividends. A poll released Tuesday by the Suffolk University Political Research Center found that in New Hampshire, Trump is running second only to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in the Republican Primary.
The poll of 500 Granite State voters, with a margin of error of 4.4 percent, found Bush leading the large pack of GOP contenders with 14 percent of the vote. Trump was close behind at 11 percent. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio trailed Trump with 8 and 7 percent, respectively.
The numbers are remarkable, if only because Trump has such terrible approval ratings among voters across the country. The ABC/Washington Post poll found that 71 percent of voters have an unfavorable opinion of Trump, compared to 17 percent with a favorable opinion. Among Republicans, according to Quinnipiac, he has an unfavorable rating of 52 percent, compared to 34 percent favorable rating.
Most damning is a Fox News Poll that found 59 percent of Republicans “would never vote for” him.
Despite all that, the man whose hair inspired its own Twitter account is not only running, he’s competing in an early primary state.
“Jeb Bush continues to lead, but Donald Trump has emerged as an anti-Jeb Bush alternative in New Hampshire,” said David Paleologos, who directs the Suffolk University Political Research Center in Boston. “Many of those who like Trump are voting for him, and although many more dislike him, the unfavorables are split up among many other candidates. It’s the politics of plurality.”
Paleologos added, “The large field of candidates is working for Trump now, but the field will winnow in August with the first of many televised Republican debates. And the question is, who among the growing list of candidates will be selected to participate.”
When the same voters were asked which candidates they wanted to see participate in the Republican primary debates, Trump came in 11th. According to the debate rules developed by Fox News and agreed to by the Republican National Committee, only the top 10 candidates by polling would qualify.
Whether they want to hear from him in debates or not, there some history between Trump and New Hampshire voters. Trump has walked up to the edge of a presidential run multiple times in recent election cycles, coming close enough to register in the polls, but never actually committing to run. But in the 2012 cycle, New Hampshire was one of the most compelling arguments in favor of a Trump candidacy.
“Mitt Romney's looked like the runaway favorite in all of our New Hampshire polling to date,” Dean Debnam of Public Policy Polling told the New York Daily News at the time. “Donald Trump's the first person to hold him to a single digit lead. He really could prove to be a serious candidate if he gets into the race.”
Trump, of course, didn’t get into the race. And there is still a strong suspicion among close observers of the political process that, despite his announcement last week, he still isn’t really in this one either, but is simply ticking something off his personal bucket list. Trump, that strain of thinking goes, is a candidate for president in the way that a middle-aged man going to fantasy baseball camp is a professional baseball player.
But at the moment, a non-trivial portion of Granite State residents say they are ready to vote for him to represent the GOP in 2016. How long that sentiment persists is, of course, up for debate.
What’s not in question, though, is that Rubio, Walker and other hopefuls can only feel depressed when they look at the numbers and see themselves trailing a man who more than 71 percent of Americans openly dislike.
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