By Niall Stanage - 07/29/15 06:00 AM EDT
Donald TrumpDonald TrumpConway says she'll talk to Trump about press safety Helen Mirren gives advice for being a ‘nasty woman’ Gingrich goes off on Megyn Kelly over Trump allegations: 'You are fascinated with sex' MORE’s explosive rise in the polls has come at the expense of every other GOP presidential candidate except for Jeb Bush and Scott Walker — who arguably have been helped by the businessman’s rise.
The media storm surrounding Trump is starving other candidates of oxygen — including major contenders such as Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioThe Trail 2016: An important lesson in geography Clinton takes aim at Rubio in Florida rally Dem Senate hopeful dodges leaked Clinton emails at debate MORE (R-Fla.), who has seen his polling numbers plummet 3.2 percentage points since Trump’s entry.
“Jeb and Walker are in the first tier and they are not going anywhere,” said GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak. “The problem is for those who are in the third tier trying to get into the second, or the second trying to get into the first.”
Mackowiak added that the sheer volume of attention being commanded by Trump has forced other contenders into using novel tactics or extreme rhetoric to garner media coverage.
He cited the examples of Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamTrump on primary rivals who don't back him: 'I don't know how they live with themselves' The Trail 2016: Who is really winning? Graham: GOP Senate could rein in Clinton White House MORE (R-S.C.) releasing a video of himself destroying his cellphone after Trump had given out his phone number at a public event, Sen. Rand PaulRand PaulWhat the 'Bernie Sanders wing of the GOP' can teach Congress GOP senators avoid Trump questions on rigged election How low is the bar for presidential candidates, anyway? MORE (R-Ky.) using a chainsaw and a woodchipper to destroy the tax code and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee alleging that President Obama was marching Israelis “to the door of the oven” through his deal with Iran on its nuclear program.
Cal Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University, made a similar point.
“Candidates like Rand Paul and Ted CruzTed CruzThe Trail 2016: An important lesson in geography Webb: The race to 270 Potential Cruz challenger: 'Don't close off your options' MORE and Marco Rubio are now fighting for any attention at all,” he said. “They are fighting for it with outlandish statements, trying to keep up with Trump. I’m thinking particularly of Huckabee. He continues to make that point [about the Iran deal], so he must think he is getting the attention from that, without which he cannot rise in the polls.”
Huckabee is among those who have suffered the steepest slides in their poll ratings since Trump entered the race on June 16. In that time, the former Arkansas governor’s national average in the RealClearPolitics (RCP) polling data has slid from 8.6 percent to 6.0 percent, while his averages in Iowa and New Hampshire have also declined by more than two percentage points.
While such changes appear modest, they are significant in a field of 16 declared candidates and where only three (Trump, Bush and Walker) are in double-digits in the national averages.
The biggest absolute decline has been suffered by retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who has slid 3.4 percentage points, followed by Rubio, Huckabee (-2.6 points) and Paul (-2.5 points).
The drop-offs for other candidates — such as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum — are more modest in percentage-point terms, but none of them was polling above 5 percent in the first place. Perry’s support, for instance, has ebbed from 3.2 percent to 2.0 percent.
A similar pattern is seen in polling from Iowa, the state that holds the first contest in the nominating process. Taking the RCP average as the yardstick, the worst falls in percentage-point terms have been suffered by Rubio, Huckabee, Paul and Santorum. Aside from Trump, who has risen 7.3 percentage points since entering the race, the only candidates to gain more than a single percentage point are, once again, Bush (+1.3 points) and Walker (+1.0 points).
Some experts suggest that Bush’s support has been largely impervious to Trump’s advance because of the name recognition and financial resources that the former Florida governor enjoys.
“He is able to float above a lot of this Trump stuff,” Mackowiak said. “His campaign is big enough and strong enough that they don’t have to chase rabbits all the time.”
Others suggest that the deliberative, cerebral Bush offers one of the starkest contrasts to Trump’s antics.
“There seems to be a true contrast between the style and message of Jeb Bush versus Trump,” said Susan MacManus, a University of South Florida professor. “Even at the same time as people don’t like government and love to hear someone bash everyone, there is also a great interest in improving the civility of public discourse. Jeb Bush is trying to tap into that.”
Others suggest that there is solidity to the backing for Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Walker that other candidates do not enjoy.
“Jeb and Scott are the only two candidates — with the exception of Rand Paul, who has a libertarian base, but it’s very small — who I can definitively say have a base at this point,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell.
For candidates who might have hoped to tap into a sense of unease, or even resentment, among conservatives, Trump’s candidacy poses much greater dangers.
“There are several elements to the Republican electorate, but the most boisterous is the ‘angry’ wing,” said Jillson. “Eight or nine [candidates] had expected to contest with each other for that angry vote, and Trump has simply come in and swept up a good share of it.”
There is one final element that might help Bush and hurt others, the experts suggested. Trump’s rise has been so sharp and — thus far — durable that establishment-minded Republicans are getting nervous. Some of them may already be rallying behind Bush as their best defender against the “Trumpian” hordes.
“The party establishment may be uniting more behind Jeb because they see Trump as more of a threat than they expected,” Mackowiak said.