After making scathing remarks about Senator John McCain’s military service earlier this month, a number of Republicans gleefully scripted Donald Trump’s political demise in hopes that his freewheeling presidential campaign would derail.
However, according to a new Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll, it seems that predictions about the end of Trump’s political aspirations were premature as he gains momentum ahead of next week’s first Republican debate.
The poll indicates that Trump is garnering his greatest support yet nationally, as nearly a quarter of Republicans surveyed selected him as their choice for the party’s presidential candidate for 2016. He currently has a double-digit lead over his closest rival, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who trails behind at 12 percent.
“I’m proud to be in first place by such a wide margin in another national poll,” Trump told news agency Reuters.
Since suffering a slight decline in the wake of the McCain debacle, the five-day rolling online poll concluded that the real-estate mogul and reality show star scored 15 percent among Republicans on Friday before soaring up to 24.9 percent.
“He’s not going away,” said Republican National Committee member and former McCain adviser Steve Duprey from New Hampshire. “There are people who think his candidacy is a flash in the pan or a flash in the moment, but I think that underestimates his appeal.”
Trump is scheduled to be on stage next week in Cleveland for a debate sponsored by Fox News, which will be using polls to determine which 10 of the 17 Republican candidates can participate.
There is also a possibility that Trump will run as an independent candidate as he has not ruled out the possibility. In a match up with Bush and Democrat Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Trump tied with Bush at 23 percent among likely voters, with Clinton leading 37 percent of the vote. The remaining 15 percent said they were undecided or did not plan on voting.
The scenario presents itself as a challenge for party strategists. In 1992, a similar situation occured when businessman Ross Perot’s independent candidacy helped topple George H.W. Bush’s reelection bid and paved way for Bill Clinton to secure the presidency with just 43 percent.
Rallying white, conservative votes
Trump appears to be marketing his case to white voters which, according to polls, are the current backbone of the Republican party. The Republicans need to secure as many white votes as possible to challenge demographic shifts in the United States which has given the Democrats an electoral advantage over the last two presidential elections.
In 2012, despite Republican Mitt Romney gathering 60 percent of white voters, he still lost the bid to President Barack Obama by five million votes.
The polls show that a third-party bid by Trump would doom the Republican party’s chances of winning the presidential elections, be it Bush, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, or Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker among others.
Political scientist and expert on public opinion at Vanderbilt University John Geersaid said the polls make sense given Trump’s appeal to conservative voters who believe that the party nominated two moderate establishment candidates McCain and Romney.
“The activists are doubly angry,” Geer said. “He’s capturing that anger. They’re looking for a voice, and he happens to be here at the right time.”
Republican strategist John Feehery, on the other hand, cautioned that Trump’s surge may largely be a function of the name recognition he enjoys as a result of his celebrity.
“This is just 24 percent of a Republican electorate, probably most of whom probably haven’t thought much about the presidential race, have a visceral reaction to Bush, and haven’t really heard about the other candidates,” he said.
He argues that Trump’s numbers will fall as the race intensifies and scrutitiny of his candacy increases.
“The curtain has not been pulled back yet,” Feehery added. “In time, people will see Trump is not who they want to have as a nominee. But that’s going to take awhile.”