By Jonathan Easley - 10/22/15 07:00 AM EDT
Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump deposition video to be released Clinton's “superpredators” comment most damaging by either candidate Here's how Trump can win the income inequality debate MORE is closing in on 100 days atop the Republican primary polls.
The billionaire candidate has led every major national Republican poll since late July, and a raft of new surveys released this week reveals that Trump’s support has held steady over those months, while his underlying fundamentals have improved.
Republicans and Beltway media elites, once hesitant to take Trump’s campaign seriously, now acknowledge him as a legitimate contender in the races for the Republican nomination and the White House.
“All of us dismissed Trump early on. A summer fling, momentary amusement,” “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace said after interviewing Trump over the weekend. “As I watch that interview … I am beginning to believe he could be elected president of the United States.”
Former Rep. Joe Scarborough (R-Fla.), the host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” said the same thing this week.
According to data compiled by the bipartisan Washington lobbying firm Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen & Thomas, Trump’s 94 days leading nationally surpasses every other modern-era “fling” candidate.
In 2004, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean lasted 90 days atop the Democratic primary polls. Trump has doubled up the showings of former Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry in 2012 and has enjoyed nearly three times as many days in the lead as former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee did in 2008.
“I can think of no situation in either party where someone has dominated the national and early-state polls simultaneously for as long as he has,” said Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak. “We’re in unchartered territory. There is some realization that there’s a real chance he could win the nomination.”
New surveys released this week show the extent of Trump’s polling strength with only 100 days to go until the first votes are cast in the Iowa caucuses.
Trump hit his highest mark yet in NBC News/Wall Street Journal surveys, taking 25 percent support. Here, Trump only leads Carson by 3 points, but he’s the only candidate to gain support in every NBC/WSJ poll since June.
An ABC News/Washington Post poll found that Trump has broken the 30 percent-support threshold for the second consecutive time, leading second-place Carson by 10 points and third-place Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioOvernight Finance: Lawmakers float criminal charges for Wells Fargo chief | Scrutiny on Trump's Cuba dealings | Ryan warns of recession if no tax reform The Trail 2016: Just a little kick Opposition to Obama's radical disarmament agenda has proven effective MORE (R-Fla.) by 22.
Additionally, the polls show Trump has surpassed two major psychological hurdles.
A strong plurality of Republicans surveyed in the ABC News/Washington Post poll, 42 percent, said Trump will most likely be the GOP nominee. In second place on that question is Carson, who is a distant second at only 15 percent.
Furthermore, a Monmouth University survey released this week found that a majority of Republicans, 59 percent, could see themselves voting for Trump, up from 52 percent last month.
“A lot of people saw this as a summer thing, but it’s a full-blown trend,” said Craig Robinson, the former political director for the Iowa Republican Party. “He’s withstood scrutiny and some unforced errors and he’s still there on top. Who cares if you can explain it? People look at it and say it shouldn’t be happening or that it’s counter to conventional wisdom. But here it is. It’s reality.”
Still, it is in Robinson’s state — the first contest to be held next year — where Trump’s lead is smaller and perhaps more tenuous.
He still leads Carson by 5.6 percentage points, according to the RealClearPolitics (RCP) average, but a Quinnipiac University survey released Thursday morning showed Carson overcoming him and grabbing a 28 to 20 lead.
Trump had led every Iowa poll before that since late July, except for one, which found he and Carson locked in a tie. Political watchers will be anxious to see if the Quinnipiac poll is the beginning of a trend or merely an anomaly.
Beyond the challenge of Carson, many Republicans believe Trump faces the challenge of building an organization in the state that is capable of flipping support into hard votes on caucus day.
But overwhelmingly, the polls continue to move in a positive direction for Trump.
His favorability rating, once considered his biggest liability, has recovered from 20 percent in a June poll by Monmouth University to 52 percent presently, something Monmouth pollster Patrick Murray says he’s never seen before.
And a CNN/ORC poll released this week, which found Trump leading Carson 27 to 22, also found that Trump would be in a position to benefit if other candidates drop out, as 17 percent said Trump is their second choice in the poll. He trails only Carson, who is at 18 percent, on that question.
“The folks within the party who still don’t think he can win aren’t counting on how disgusted — and that’s not too strong a word — Republican voters are with their own party,” said Monmouth pollster Murray.
Monmouth’s polling found that two-thirds of Republican primary voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina are dissatisfied with Congressional leadership, a sentiment that Trump has sought to bottle on the campaign trail.
In New Hampshire, every poll released this month except one has shown Trump with a double-digit lead, despite a spending frenzy by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and a near-singular focus on the state by Govs. Chris Christie (N.J.) and John Kasich (Ohio), both of whom believe their moderate profiles should endear them to the mainstream voters there.
A Public Policy Polling survey of New Hampshire released this week, which is the closest poll of the bunch, showed Trump taking 24 percent support over Carson at 17. Trump led in every demographic — men, women, young, old, Tea Party conservatives, evangelicals and those who identify as somewhat and very conservative.
In neighboring Massachusetts, which has a March 15 primary, an Emerson University poll released this week shows Trump with a staggering 34-point lead over Carson, the next closest candidate.
In South Carolina, Trump led in a CNN/ORC survey released last week by 18 points and has an average lead in the state of 15 points, according to RCP.
Despite Trump’s polling strength, many Republicans remain skeptical that he can win the nomination.
“There’s no way he’ll win, I’m still completely unconvinced,” said former New Hampshire GOP Chairman Fergus Cullen. “Could he hang around for another 108 days and be a factor in New Hampshire? I’m starting to come around to that possibility. It’s taking longer for the anti-Trump vote to consolidate around someone, but it’s going to happen.”
Trump skeptics offer a host of reasons for why he can’t maintain his momentum for another 100 days.
They say he’s not running a traditional campaign and that his political team is second rate. They say he’s appealing to a constituency that doesn’t typically vote in primaries or caucuses and, therefore, he won’t be able to convert polling support into hard votes when it matters.
Trump is unpredictable, Republicans say, and bound to flame out. They argue he’s not a true conservative and will be exposed as a former liberal who lacks policy chops at the debates and in attack ads, such as those from Club for Growth, who is on a mission to destroy him.
They believe Trump will cower at the first sign of polling slippage and find an excuse to bow out rather than be embarrassed.
And Republicans note that many candidates have not begun spending on ads. They say that Trump, meanwhile, is getting less earned media than he used to, as many networks have stopped cutting away to cover his campaign rallies.
The huge and fractured field will narrow, they argue, paving the way for a far more competitive race. And even if Trump pulls out a win in an early-voting state, many believe the establishment will move quickly to coalesce behind a non-Trump candidate.
Still, Trump remains in an enviable position.
“If anyone else was in Trump’s position they’d be viewed as the inevitable nominee,” said Jeffrey Lord, a former Reagan administration official who supports Trump. “I have never seen a group of people so obtuse as to what is going on outside of Washington that they feel comfortable writing Trump off. They’re finally just now coming to the realization that he’s going to win.”