Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump’s style decoded: How to interpret his first speech to Congress Missouri newspaper blasts Trump's silence on shootings of Indian immigrants The teenage State of the Union guests with a powerful message for Donald Trump MORE is proving to be a much more durable presidential candidate than his critics predicted.
Six weeks after entering the White House race, the business mogul is topping GOP polls, dominating the media's coverage and showing no signs of slowing down.
“There’s been this perception that he’s peaked or is in the process of peaking and that he’ll soon go away,” said former Republican Party of Iowa Political Director Craig Robinson. “I think that’s just wishful thinking on behalf of his critics.”
Not even his remarks a week ago, questioning Sen. John McCainJohn McCainTrump fires opening salvo in budget wars Overnight Finance: Trump budget to boost military, slash nondefense spending | Senate confirms Commerce pick | House Intel chief won't subpoena tax returns Overnight Defense: Trump proposes 3B defense budget | Defense hawks say proposal falls short | Pentagon to probe Yemen raid MORE’s war record, have sunk his campaign.
According to a new CNN/ORC International Poll — the first national survey that fully reflects Trump’s remarks about McCain — Trump sits atop the Republican field. It’s the fifth consecutive major national survey to show Trump in the lead.
The poll found that Trump trails only Jeb Bush as the candidate Republicans believe is most likely to ultimately win the party’s nomination. A majority of Republicans, 51 percent, have a favorable view of Trump.
Patrick Murray, Director of the Monmouth University poll, said his surveys show Trump’s negatives declining from 55 percent in June to 41 percent in July.
“I’ve never seen that kind of a change in just one month for someone who was so well-known already,” Murray said. “Usually it takes a scandal or heroic act for people to change their underlying opinions that dramatically. All he did was announce he’s running for president.”
Trump is also seeing gains in the critical early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire.
According to an NBC News-Marist Poll released over the weekend, Trump has a seven-point lead over Bush, the next closest candidate, in New Hampshire. It’s the first major survey to show Trump overtaking Bush in the Granite State.
The same survey also showed Trump making major gains in Iowa. For months now, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has maintained a healthy lead over the field in the Hawkeye State. The latest poll shows Trump within two points of Walker.
“I don’t get a lot of pleasure in admitting this, but I think the reason his polling numbers have proven durable over the last month or so is because there’s an aspect of his message that is really resonating with some conservative voters,” said Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak.
Robinson said he could foresee a scenario in which Trump pulls off a shocker and wins the Iowa caucuses.
“Absolutely [he could win],” Robinson said. “This is a complete shake-up. Trump has as good a campaign apparatus in the state as anyone else. He’s personally wealthy, he has across-the-board name ID, and the media is obsessed with him.”
Still, that’s not the view of most Republicans or pollsters, who expect the Trump bubble will burst for all the reasons critics have cited from the start.
They point to his unfavorability rating of 40 percent in the new CNN/ORC Poll and note that few candidates are even in the ballpark of that figure.
They also say Trump has no platform, no identifiable base of support, that he lacks institutional support from within the party, and they believe he continues to benefit from outsized media coverage.
“We’re still seeing the result of this extreme level of media attention,” said GOP pollster David Winston, a veteran of Newt Gingrich’s 2012 campaign. “It’s not much different from the last time around when we saw candidates pop up as challengers to Mitt Romney. It wasn’t unusual for that to last for a month or even six weeks.”
Critics also say Trump’s past will eventually come back to haunt him. Indeed, he has a long record of donating to Democratic candidates, and has in the past expressed support for universal healthcare, abortion and taxing the wealthy.
“You’re going to start seeing candidates going after him and sending out opposition research holding him accountable,” said Mackowiak. “There’s a treasure trove of flip-flops and questionable business dealing in his past. The scrutiny there hasn’t started yet, but now that he’s on top, he’ll get it from the media and the other campaigns.”
The day of reckoning could come as soon Aug. 6, Republicans say, when Trump’s record will go up against what many in the party describe as the deepest and most experienced field of candidates the GOP has ever had.
“Right now, people are seeing news stories about him with no context of where other candidates stand or what they’re saying,” said Winston. “It’s going to be a huge leap for Trump to transform that media attention into a lasting argument that he’s the Republican best able to lead the country. That’s a big jump.”
While polls show that Trump is a serious contender for the GOP nomination, they also consistently show he’d lose by a wide margin in the general election against Democratic frontrunner Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonPoll: Most voters say Trump is keeping his campaign promises 5 challenges for new DNC chairman Tom Perez New DNC chair Perez will attend Trump's speech as former rival's guest MORE.
The latest CNN/ORC survey shows that in a head-to-head match-up, Clinton would take 57 percent support to Trump’s 38 percent.
Still, for a candidate that has been underestimated the entirety of his campaign, political watchers warn against betting against him.
“This has gone on longer than I expected,” said Murray. “I though after the McCain comments, voters would start looking at other candidates, but he’s survived. I think it’s evidence he’s really tapping into something.”