A new national survey shows Donald Trump continuing to surge in his blitzkrieg-like drive for the Republican presidential nomination, raising the question of whether anyone in the crowded GOP field can stop him.
Trump, the billionaire provocateur who has heaped insults on the Obama administration, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, the news media, illegal immigrants and just about anyone else who strays into his cross hairs, currently leads the pack with 28 percent of the Republican vote, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll. That is an eight-point improvement over Trump’s July 30 showing, according to the polling organization, and constitutes the “highest tally and widest margin” for any of the 17 Republican candidates.
Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, a conservative commentator and favorite of the Tea Party, weighed in with 12 percent of the vote, followed by Bush and Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida with 7 percent each. In a GOP presidential contest that more and more is shaping up as a battle between a New York City political Goliath and 16 dwarfs, none of the other candidates tops 6 percent in the survey.
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That means that candidates like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, former Texas governor Rick Perry, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and others who entered the race earlier this year with great fanfare are struggling to penetrate the public consciousness amid the political excitement and uproar over Trump’s shoot-from-the-lip campaign that so far has kept him comfortably ahead in the polls.
While establishment Republican critics and Democrats say it is only a matter of time before Trump’s campaign implodes after generating enormous hostility among Latino voters, women and others troubled by his self-aggrandizing style, for now the real estate tycoon and realty TV personality is defying those expectations. A recent New York Times analysis of nine independent national polls and other public surveys in early battle-ground states concluded that Trump is “out-performing his Republican rivals with constituencies they were widely expected to dominate.”
Yet the new Quinnipiac survey of 1,563 registered voters conducted August 20-25 is laden with warning signs of potential trouble down the road. And with little more than four months before the formal start of the 2016 election campaign, plenty could happen to trip up the Trump juggernaut.
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In a hypothetical matchup with Vice President Joseph Biden, Trump loses 48 percent to 40 percent in the new poll. He does little better against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the current Democratic frontrunner, losing 45 percent to 41 percent. Even in a matchup with Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the Democratic socialist, Trump comes up short, 44 percent to 41 percent.
Trump’s negatives among GOP regulars remain very high, with 26 percent of Republican voters saying there is no way they could support him. Men clearly prefer Trump over women. And while Clinton’s credibility with voters is in the tank because of the controversy over the handling of e-mail at the State Department, voters by a 54 percent to 38 percent margin say that Trump is not honest and trustworthy.
However, Trump still leads among both men and women. He leads among self-described Tea Party Republicans, White Evangelical Christians and Republicans who view themselves as very conservative, somewhat conservative and moderate.
On its face, Trump’s lead looks like a tough nut to crack, with no obvious demographic weak points.
The general sense in the political press is that Trump is something like a summer fling and that voters will eventually move on when it’s time to cast votes that really count, throwing their support to a more conventional candidate. But with Trump’s saturation media coverage, his proposals are increasingly the lens through which voters are looking at the other candidates. They can get press attention when they engage with Trump’s ideas or simply mirror them.
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Assuming that nobody is going to be able to out-Trump Donald Trump, though, any strategy meant to cut into the billionaire blowhard’s lead would require a candidate to play up their differences.
So, who is positioned to do that? Here are three of the candidates with the best chance.
Yes, Bush can be a little dull, and yes, he’s the establishment candidate in a year when Republicans are clamoring for someone from outside to shake up the race. But here’s the thing: At this point in the campaign, Republicans are always clamoring for someone to come in and shake things up from the outside. We’re not terribly far from the last time a rich businessman with no political experience and a thin portfolio of policy proposals was leading in GOP polls. Things didn’t end well for Herman Cain in 2012.
And the idea that Jeb Bush’s ties to the establishment will doom him with the electorate is belied by history. The last time a non-establishment candidate earned the GOP presidential nomination was 35 years ago, when it went to a guy called Ronald Reagan. Since then, despite early leads by candidates like former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani in 2008, the establishment candidate has, without exception, received the nomination.
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For Bush, the most dangerous thing he could do might be to try to shed the establishment mantle. It’s worked well for nearly four decades, despite rough starts for many of the eventual nominees.
With 7 percent of the vote, the Florida senator is in a three-way tie for third place in the Quinnipiac poll, meaning that he is tied with Bush and fellow senator Ted Cruz of Texas. Rubio’s greatest strength at the moment is that Republican voters seem to like him. A lot.
Rubio owns the highest favorability rating of any candidate in the field among Republican voters, with a net 69 percent favorability rating. One of the caveats that always goes along with favorability ratings is that they tend to decline somewhat when candidates become widely known. But Rubio is already among the most widely recognized in the field. At 75 percent, he trails only Trump, former Arkansas governor and 2008 presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, and Bush.
Rubio’s unfavorable are remarkably low, at only 3 percent of the electorate. Trump’s unfavorable, by comparison, are higher by a factor of 10, at 30 percent.
A late entry into the race, Kasich is probably the only candidate with a reasonable chance at stealing the status of the “establishment Republican” pick from Bush. A long-serving member of Congress and now the extremely popular governor of the vital swing state of Ohio, Kasich is now sitting in the middle of the pack with 5 percent of the vote.
The Ohio governor possesses a deep well of policy knowledge and experience that, as the campaign field narrows and voters start peeling off of other candidates and looking for someone else to support, could help him attract potential voters turned off by Trump’s bombast.