Ted Cruz has been working hard to blunt Donald Trump’s momentum heading into the final six weeks of the GOP presidential primary, and one of this go-to criticisms of the billionaire frontrunner is that he has a “hard ceiling” of support. The idea is that while Trump’s supporters are passionate, their numbers are limited — constituting well under half of the Republican Party.
A new NBC News tracking poll, though, is going to make it more difficult for Cruz to continue making that case. It shows Trump hitting 50 percent support among Republican and Republican-leaning voters for the first time since the poll went into the field in December.
If the NBC result is confirmed by other surveys in the coming days, it will put to rest a story that members of the GOP establishment have been using to comfort themselves since Trump emerged as a force in this election: that he is a fringe candidate who commands only a vocal minority of the voters.
Since he entered the race, talk of Trump’s polling ceiling has been commonplace. It started in the mid-20s in August, and climbed into the 30s in the fall. When he started winning primaries, it jumped to the 40s. Now, with the former reality television star in a position to claim the nomination with a good showing in the last few weeks of the primary, he is close to being able to claim majority support.
The survey was released on a day when five northeastern states — Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Delaware — vote in the GOP primary. Trump is the prohibitive favorite in all five of them, and his expected sweep will not only put him closer to securing the nomination in terms of delegates, but will help cement his claim to be the presumptive nominee.
Despite the momentum, all is not well inside Team Trump. On Tuesday, Politico reported signs of discord between the candidate and his recently hired adviser, Paul Manafort. An attorney and lobbyist, Manafort was brought in to “professionalize” a campaign that had been run, up until just a few weeks ago, by a small team of Trump insiders answering to campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.
With Lewandowski reportedly sidelined by Manafort and a team of lobbyists and campaign experts including former Scott Walker campaign manager Rick Wilson, close observers of the campaign thought they detected a shift in Trump’s tone. His speech following a big win in the New York primary last week was less bombastic and didn’t include his opponents’ insulting nicknames.
Later last week, Manafort assured the Republican National Committee that Trump’s boastful playground-bully persona was really just an act, and that his candidate would be toning things down and acting more presidential as the general election approached.
Evidently, this didn’t sit well with Trump, whose aversion to being told what to do is well-known.
In the Politico piece Tuesday morning, reporters Kenneth P. Vogel and Eli Stokols spoke to multiple unnamed sources inside the Trump camp who testified to tension between Trump and Manafort, and a resurgence of Lewandowski, who reportedly saw some of his former responsibilities restored.
As if to underline the point that he won’t be “managed,” Trump had a most unpresidential day on Monday, repeatedly attacking Ohio Gov. John Kasich for his “disgusting” eating habits, and calling Cruz “Lyin’ Ted” at his campaign rallies.
He even fired up his Twitter account, which had been toned down somewhat in recent weeks, blasting an attempt by Cruz and Kasich to split their efforts in coming primary states in order to deny Trump the nomination as weak, desperate and, of course, “Sad!”
Trump appears to have decided that — act or not — the persona that got him to a huge delegate advantage and 50 percent support of the GOP is the one he’s going to stick with, at least for the time being.