Republican frontrunner Donald Trump is counting on another good day today in Michigan, Mississippi, Idaho and Hawaii to dispel the idea that his campaign is losing momentum. The latest polls show he is leading in all four states.
But fresh polling also suggests that his outrageous debate performances, his disturbing campaign rallies – complete with supporters raising their right arms to declare their fealty – and hard-hitting attacks from establishment Republicans are beginning to hurt him.
The first sign of a possible crack in his armor surfaced on Monday, with polls from Monmouth University showing Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida closing in on Trump in Rubio’s home state, while Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Ohio Gov. John Kasich were surging in today’s GOP primary in Michigan.
Now, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows Trump losing steam nationally. While the billionaire businessman and former reality TV showman maintains the support of 34 percent of registered Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, Cruz is moving up with 25 percent of the vote, Rubio has drawn 18 percent and Kasich claims 13 percent. Notably, Trump’s lead over Cruz has shrunk from 16 percentage points in January to just nine points now.
To be sure, while Trump may have peaked, there appears to be a limit to how far he is likely to fall. Trump’s base of support is large, fervent and indifferent to evidence that their candidate is a serial liar.
Last week, former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney took the unprecedented step of speaking out against Trump personally. The closest thing the GOP has to an elder statesman right now, Romney delivered a clear and forceful indictment of Trump.
The former governor of Massachusetts listed Trump’s various business failures, including a supposed business education company that is now being sued for fraud. He pointed out how Trump is sowing division and hatred, and playing on people’s anger as he sells his trademark “Make America Great Again” hat.
“Here's what I know, Romney said. “Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University. He's playing the American public for suckers: He gets a free ride to the White House and all we get is a lousy hat.”
Among Trump supporters, according to a poll by the Morning Consult, 56 percent said that Romney’s decision to speak against their candidate made them more determined than ever to vote for him. Just 5 percent said it made them less likely to vote for Trump, and 36 percent said it would have no impact either way.
Trump, the master of bravado and personal insults, has largely blown off recent criticism from not just Romney but also from a growing number of more establishment Republicans, outside groups and super PACs that he would lead his party and the country to ruin if he were to win the presidency. Former New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, a one-time Republican who flirted with the idea of mounting a third party candidacy before deciding against it Monday, was the latest to take aim at Trump.
“He has run the most divisive and demagogic presidential campaign I can remember, preying on people’s prejudices and fears,” Bloomberg wrote yesterday on Bloomberg View.
Much to the delight of his many supporters and to the horror of his critics, Trump has vowed – among other things – to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and force the Mexican government to pay for it, to arrest and deport 11 million illegal immigrants in this country, to temporarily ban all Muslims from entering the U.S., to order the military to use waterboarding and other illegal techniques of torture in dealing with ISIS terrorists, and to weaken the First Amendment to make it easier to sue the news media. He even threatened House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) with retaliation unless he played ball with a Trump administration.
And beginning with a rowdy campaign rally in Orlando on Saturday, Trump has begun calling on his supporters to raise their right hands – recalling 1930s-vintage fascist rallies in Germany and Italy – and swear they would vote for him. He did it again Monday night in Mississippi. That latest tactic has enraged many conservatives, including conservative talk show host Glenn Beck, and Jewish organizations, who are shocked by what Trump is doing to stir up hatred and racial and religious intolerance.
“We should look at Adolf Hitler in 1929,” Beck said on ABC’s This Week last Sunday. “Donald Trump is a dangerous man with the things that he has been saying.”
In a jarring finding in the new Washington Post survey, just 51 percent of Republicans or GOP-leaning independents say they would be satisfied with Trump as their nominee, in contrast to 65 percent who say they would be comfortable with Cruz and 62 percent who would be satisfied with Rubio.
Moreover, more than half of the Republicans and GOP-leaning independents said they think Trump is dishonest, does not understand their problems, and lacks the right experience and temperament to be president. By contrast, more than six in 10 Republicans believe that Cruz is honest and would have the right temperament for the Oval Office.
A Monmouth University poll released Monday showed Trump winning 36 percent of likely GOP primary voters in Michigan on Tuesday, 13 percentage points ahead of Cruz and 15 points ahead of Kasich, who appeared to be moving up. Trump is also leading in the latest polling in Mississippi, where he holds a commanding 24-point lead, and in Idaho, with an 11-point lead. He has led as well in earlier surveys of Republicans in Hawaii.