By Ben Kamisar
Polling experts agree on one thing when it comes to Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump looks to raise M by end of June Social Security: focus on solvency first Obama to make clean energy pledge with Mexico, Canada: report MORE’s presidential run: They’ve never seen anything like it.
The billionaire businessman’s dominance of the Republican presidential race is forcing experienced political hands to question whether everything they know about winning the White House is wrong.
In another act of political magic, Trump managed to flip his favorability rating from negative to positive in one poll during the span of a month — a feat that Monmouth University’s Patrick Murray called “astounding.”
“That defies any rule in presidential politics that I’ve ever seen,” Murray, the director Monmouth’s Polling Institute, told The Hill.
Trump’s favorability rose from 20 percent to 52 percent among Republican voters between July and August, Monmouth found.
While a later CNN/ORC Poll did not find a similar shift in Trump’s favorability, the Monmouth data was yet another sign that he is a candidate to be reckoned with.
“Throw out the rulebook when it comes to Trump, that’s not even in the parameters of what we see as unusual,” Murray insisted.
Trump’s dominance of the race has flustered the Republican field, with many of the candidates trying their best to bring him back to earth.
But as the attacks on Trump have intensified, so has his level of support.
Polls released on Tuesday show Trump lapping the field in New Hampshire, where he leads his nearest Republican rival by 24 percentage points. The story is the same in South Carolina, where the latest poll gave him a 15-point edge.
While political scientists and other experts continue to insist Trump will not win the Republican nomination, he’s converted at least one high-profile skeptic.
GOP pollster Frank Luntz had dismissed Trump from the start, and declared after the first presidential debate that his campaign was doomed.
But after convening a focus group on Monday evening, in which Trump supporters showed an unflappable allegiance, Luntz changed his tune.
“This is real. I’m having trouble processing,” he said, according to Time.
“I want to put the Republican leadership behind this mirror and let them see. They need to wake up. They don’t realize how the grassroots have abandoned them,” he added.
Polling experts, including Marist College’s Lee Miringoff, say Trump is weathering political storms that would doom other candidates because his appeal is more about attitude than ideology.
While many of Trump’s supporters identify as strong conservatives, some of the policies he’s proposed — including increased spending on the border and higher taxes on the wealthy — have prompted accusations from rivals, like former Fla. Gov. Jeb Bush, that he isn’t a true conservative.
Miringoff said he doesn’t expect those attacks to stick.
“This is the next step of the Tea Party — someone who can tap into the sentiment that people have about all the frustration and turn it into, ‘We are going to make America great again,’” he said.
“This is not a policy paper.”
But even if Trump is rewriting the political playbook, can he go the distance?
Experts note that the last presidential nominating season was full of booms and busts, with Herman Cain, Michele BachmannMichele BachmannFalwell faces flak for posing with Trump in front of Playboy The Trail 2016: On faith and the economy Michele Bachmann to advise Trump on evangelical issues MORE and Rick Perry all flaming out after time at the top of the polls.
The next round of surveys on the Republican race will go a long way toward showing whether Trump has staying power, pollsters say.
“It will take another three or four weeks before we realize what happened, whether he can stick around or if his support is eroding,” Murray said.
“We are at the turning point, the eye of the storm, but we don’t know how much longer the storm is going to continue.”
Experts see several dangers ahead for Trump.
For one, he tends to fare better with broader samples than groups of likely primary voters, as pointed out by The New York Times.
Second, there’s no guarantee that Trump’s summer surge will translate to action at the ballot box.
“The percentage who go to caucus events and vote in primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire are really quite conservative and ideological. It remains to be seen if he can get impassioned people out to the polls,” said Rutgers political science professor Cliff Zukin.
“Polls are general, and the electorate that turns out to those events will be different than those who pollsters are contacting now.”
There’s also the question of how much the size of the Republican field is helping Trump, with voter loyalties now splintered among 17 major candidates. Should some of them drop out, Republican voters could coalesce around an alternative.
Miringoff said a narrowing of the field could help candidates, such as Bush, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, rally establishment support.
That’s mainly because many voters still view Trump as unable to win in the general election. Most polls show Trump trailing in a match-up against Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonTrump looks to raise M by end of June Obama to make clean energy pledge with Mexico, Canada: report Anti-Trump leaders sending 'advance team' to Cleveland: report MORE, which his rivals have seized on to paint him as unelectable.
For now, Trump is flying high.
“Staying power is there for the immediate and moderate future, there’s no doubt about that. He’s the buzz of the campaign,” Miringhoff said.
“I can’t imagine the mistakes he would make that would disqualify him.”