How Trump won summer of 2015

How Trump won summer of 2015
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The summer belonged to Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Democrat slams Donald Trump Jr. for ‘serious case of amnesia’ after testimony Skier Lindsey Vonn: I don’t want to represent Trump at Olympics Poll: 4 in 10 Republicans think senior Trump advisers had improper dealings with Russia MORE

The billionaire businessman and reality TV star cemented his standing as the GOP front-runner in August, kicking off the month with a feisty and unapologetic debate performance and closing it out with direct attacks on Jeb Bush. 

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Trump heads into the fall with momentum after having orchestrated what Republicans are describing as a months-long clinic in the race for the presidential nomination. 

Trump is leading in the polls, blanketing the airwaves, relishing the role of attack dog against his opponents and the media and forcing the other candidates to adapt to a race that’s being run on his terms. 

He has perfected a style and message that resonates with the conservative base’s long-simmering frustration with party leadership. And he’s owned the hot-button issue of immigration, successfully driving the policy discussion to the right. 

While Trump finished the month of July atop the polls nationally, few political watchers took his rise seriously. 

But with August in the bag, Trump has Republican strategists and pollsters talking about him as a legitimate threat for the nomination in a battle they now believe could stretch on far longer than GOP leaders intended when they compressed the primary schedule and cut back on the number of debates.

Many who previously dismissed Trump’s campaign as a sideshow and a media ploy are now describing his ascent as “masterful” and arguing that his influence extends to every aspect of the race. 

“The first tier of candidates is just Trump, nobody else,” said Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak. “He’s absolutely dominating.” 

Trump has led in every major national poll since mid-July, giving him about a six-week run atop the field. He leads by nearly 15 points nationally over the next closest contender, according to the RealClearPolitics average of polls. 

Trump’s base of support is broad, with most polls showing him in the lead among men, women, Tea Party supporters, Evangelicals and Republicans who describe themselves as very conservative, somewhat conservative or liberal. 

In August, Trump led every poll of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. The primary and caucus goers in the early-voting states have historically supported candidates from different points on the conservative spectrum, but all are currently aligned behind Trump. 

Perhaps most striking is how Trump has managed to reverse the negative views most Republican voters had of him before he entered the presidential race.

In a Bloomberg poll from May, only 27 percent of Republicans in Iowa viewed Trump favorably, while 64 percent said they had a negative view of him. In the latest survey released on Monday, those numbers have been flipped, with 60 percent viewing Trump positively and only 25 percent viewing him negatively. 

Furthermore, the Bloomberg poll from May found that 58 percent of Republicans said they would not consider voting for Trump under any circumstances. That percentage has been reduced to only 29 percent in the latest poll. 

“That turnaround is unprecedented,” said Monmouth University pollster Patrick Murray. “You usually only see that when someone new bursts onto the scene. Trump has been known forever, so for a majority of Republicans to go from saying they’d never vote for him, to thinking that he’d make a good president is absolutely astounding.” 

Indeed, Trump began with an advantage, benefitting from near universal name recognition from decades in the spotlight both as a New York real estate mogul and as the star of his own reality-TV show on NBC. 

In the early stages of the race, many pundits attributed Trump’s polling strength to his fame, arguing that the surveys are largely driven by name ID at this early point in the race. 

But Trump has used his fame and his experience as a showman on TV to whip up a media frenzy that has supercharged his rise in the polls while starving the rest of the huge field of Republican candidates of the airtime they need to gain traction. 

“It shows the state of presidential politics right now,” said Mark Meckler, one of the founders of the Tea Party movement. “It’s become a media show, and that’s something most politicians just aren’t that good at. You get a guy in that arena who is a media master and he’s going to compete with anyone.”

While benefitting from the exposure, Trump has ripped a page from the conservative playbook in attacking the media at every turn. He’s mixed it up with Fox News Channel’s Megyn Kelly, Univision’s Jorge Ramos, esteemed conservative pundits such as George Will and Charles Krauthammer and anyone else who he believes treats him unfairly.

“He’s getting coverage on his own terms,” said Doug Heye, the former communications director for the Republican National Committee. “The only thing less popular than Congress or Washington is the media, so he’s winning when he’s on the attack there.” 

The net effect has the rest of the field struggling to adjust, and Trump has made that adjustment more uncomfortable by instigating political battles that his opponents were initially slow to respond to. 

Trump has mocked Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) for being short. He routinely calls Jeb Bush “low-energy." He has warned Carly Fiorina not to speak ill of him; ripped Scott Walker’s record as Wisconsin governor and boasts of his polling advantages over former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), two of his fiercest critics. 

Trump ended the month of August releasing an ad attacking Bush's comment about illegal immigration often being an "act of love."  

Several top contenders are now rebooting or reimagining their campaigns. 

Bush, who has called Trump the front-runner, has gone from seeking to minimize his involvement with Trump to engaging in full-blown political combat with him.

Scott Walker has rebranded, touting his Washington-outsider bona fides in a bid to tap into the anti-establishment fervor that is buoying Trump and other outsiders. Others, such as Paul and Perry, have essentially refocused their campaigns with the aim of taking down Trump. 

“He’s torn up the political playbook for all of these guys in a different way,” Murray said. “Remember — Chris Christie was once the straight-talking candidate, and Walker was the guy who stood up to special interests. Now Trump is filling those roles. They all seem flummoxed by him.” 

Many Republicans still don’t believe Trump will be the party’s eventual nominee, arguing that once the race gets thinned, more voters will turn to more traditional candidates. 

They say Trump’s past support for liberal causes, his penchant for courting controversy, his low ceiling of support among Republicans and his abysmal polling numbers in hypothetical general election match-ups will send the party rallying behind a candidate they view as more electable. 

But Trump has blown up their argument that his bad polling numbers in hypothetical general election match-ups would send the party rallying behind a candidate they view as more electable. In two recent polls, Hillary Clinton, who was once nearly 20 percentage points ahead of Trump in a hypothetical match up, now is only 4 or 5 points ahead. 

“In 2012 we saw a bunch of candidates have their time at the top,” said GOP strategist David Payne. “As voters get more serious about finalizing their decisions, it will become about who can win in the general election. Republicans have a huge opportunity in 2016. We’re angry and Boehner and McConnell, but we also know we need a candidate that can win against Hillary Clinton. We don’t want to nominate someone who will go down in flames.”

Still, many see a far greater threat in Trump heading into the fall than they did when the summer began. 

“He has celebrity, wealth, a message on immigration reform and trade that has found a place with about a third of the electorate and an anti-establishment approach that has been very effective,” said Mackowiak. 

“That matters because even if you can undermine him in one of those areas, he’s still standing on three legs. I’m not convinced there’s one magic bullet can kill him. If he’s going down, it will be a slow bleed and take a series of things that build up over time.”