The first big national poll after Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, out today from Morning Consult, shows that Donald Trump‘s national lead in the race for the GOP nomination for president keeps growing. Trump is dominating the field with 44 percent.
Sen. Ted Cruz, likely Trump’s top rival after winning Iowa and coming in third in New Hampshire, trails with 17 percent. The soporific Ben Carson, who had disappointing finishes in both of the early contests, is still hanging around at 10 percent, although if he doesn’t translate those to votes soon, it’s hard to believe he can stay in the race for the long haul.
After the Iowa caucuses, I wrote about how silly the momentum and expectations narrative from most political media was. Donald Trump supposedly “lost” by finishing second in a state that was always likely to be very unfriendly turf for him. Given his mammoth lead in New Hampshire, it looked to like he was pretty well positioned as the frontrunner. Sure enough, he dominated New Hampshire on Tuesday, and the script predictably flipped. Meanwhile, Bronze Medal Marco claimed victory after finishing third in Iowa. Supposedly this amounted to Marcomentum and he would emerge as the Establishment standard bearer. Days later he flubbed his debate performance and then finished fifth in New Hampshire, hardly surprising even prior to the debate debacle given middling poll numbers, no strong natural constituency, and a ground game inferior to most of his rivals.
Well, live by the Marcomentum, die by the Marcomentum. The media that had propped him up as the anointed Trump-slayer is now savaging him for the pathetic debate performance and dismal showing in New Hampshire. Trump has a six-point bump in this poll after his win in New Hampshire, while Rubio has lost five points. Most others are holding steady; Jeb Bush is up to 8 percent and nipping at Rubio’s heels with his massive war chest and campaign organization.
It’s worth noting that for all of the talk of a “ceiling” for Trump, his lead keeps growing. I remember when the ceiling was 20 percent, then 25, then 35, then 40. It sure seems like, while a significant subset of GOP voters can’t stand him, he appeals to a much larger block of Republican primary voters than pundits predicted. Indeed, it looks plenty large enough to win the nomination in a fractured field. Meanwhile, does Rubio have a ceiling? It’s true that in theory he’s broadly acceptable across the various GOP voting blocks (and has lower unfavorable ratings than Trump), but he can’t seem to crack 15 percent in polls like these! His high point so far has been a third place finish in Iowa at 23 percent.
Ultimately national polls don’t mean anything — at this stage, the useful information is state polling. But Trump has a healthy lead in South Carolina and is dominating or at least competitive in the available polling for most of the states voting in the next several weeks. And for such an outlandish candidate — someone who just seemed implausible until very recently — continued dominance in polls like these encourages the bandwagon effect that establishes Trump as the clear frontrunner. Meanwhile, as Princeton’s Sam Wang explains, the GOP delegate-selection rules strongly favor someone in Trump’s current position: “If the front-runner were a more conventional candidate, given the results in Iowa, New Hampshire, and nationally, we would be writing about near-inevitability.” Of course Trump is not a conventional candidate. It’s still possible that the party establishment will figure out a way to beat him. But the road there is looking more and more convoluted by the day.
The unthinkable has become plausible, and maybe even probable: The Republican Party might pick Donald J. Trump as its nominee for president of the United States of America.