The astonishing rise of Donald TrumpDonald TrumpSupport for Clinton ticks up in NBC News/WSJ poll Clinton up 12 points in national poll Clinton ad paints Trump as greedy for Brexit response MORE as a presidential contender has left Democrats torn over the degree to which they should fear his name at the top of the Republican ballot.
To be sure, most leading Democrats seem to view the real estate mogul as an election-year gift, an instigator who will alienate women and minorities while prompting establishment Republicans to steer clear of the polls. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has launched countless attack ads linking Trump to vulnerable Republicans in Congress.
“It’s very possible that he could win. Anything is possible in this race,” said Licy DoCanto, head of The DoCanto Group, a public policy consulting firm.
Trump, DoCanto noted, has already defied the countless predictions from both sides of the aisle that his campaign would fade into the night.
“That’s continuing to puzzle those who stare and history and say, ‘This can’t be possible,’ ” said DoCanto, who served as an aide to former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.).
“Precedent has not been an accurate barometer of what’s possible. It would be a mistake to treat him, or the campaign, in the same way.”
Trump has skyrocketed to front-runner status in the GOP primary field with a combative, no-apologies approach that’s energized many conservatives and pushed the more establishment candidates, like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, from the race.
The billionaire tallied victories in the early primary contests of New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, and polls indicate he holds a commanding lead in most of the Super Tuesday contests.
A CNN/ORC International poll released Monday found that 49 percent of Republican voters back Trump — a 33-point lead over his closest competitor, Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioRubio: 'I didn't run for the Senate to run for president again' Sunday shows preview: Next steps after Trump upheaval O'Malley gives Trump a nickname: 'Chicken Donald' MORE (R-Fla.).
But the campaign has also stirred endless controversy; Trump has called to ban all Muslims from entering the country; urged the deportation of millions of immigrants in the country illegally; suggested a popular Fox News host was menstruating during a debate; and, most recently, wavered when asked to disavow the support from a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.
Trump’s brash message has led even many Republicans to attack the GOP front-runner as a threat to both the country and the party.
Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamGun-control supporters plan next steps versus NRA Bipartisan gun measure survives test vote Senate Republicans may defy NRA on guns MORE (R-S.C.), a former presidential hopeful, said last week that the Republican Party has gone “bat-shit crazy” for backing Trump.
And Democrats have wasted no time piling on, seeing the celebrity tycoon as the perfect tool in their bid to portray Republicans as out of touch and pick up both the White House and congressional seats in November.
DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján (N.M.) suggested Trump’s success will be a boon to Democrats down-ballot.
“Whether Donald Trump becomes the eventual nominee or not, the damage has been done,” Luján told The Hill.
Most congressional Democrats have endorsed Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonSanders: 'We won some very important victories' in Democratic platform Support for Clinton ticks up in NBC News/WSJ poll Clinton up 12 points in national poll MORE, the former secretary of State. They say Clinton’s long experience in public office is the perfect counterweight to Trump’s often vague policy prescriptions for the country. And they’re quick to note that primary elections are a very different beast from the general, when the voting pool is much broader and specific issues take center stage.
“In a general election, people are going to be thinking about who is going to have access to the nuclear codes, and who do we trust to have access to those nuclear codes?” Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.), head of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), said Monday. “[Clinton] may not be the new shiny object of the moment, but she’s the most qualified.”
But Juliette Kayyem, former assistant secretary at the Homeland Security Department under President Obama, is warning that qualifications alone might not be enough in the current political environment.
“There’s something going on here that can’t be put into a nice little corner of, ‘Well, he’s just an anti-establishment Republican.’ Trump is something else,” she told KCRW.
“He’s breaking all the rules. I think those rules will impact the general against Hillary, as well.”