Donald Trump … frontrunner? That was the news out of yesterday’s CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey. Fully 19 percent of Republicans identified The Donald as their number one choice as party standard-bearer in the quest to evict Barack Obama from the White House. An equal number supported former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, while former half-term Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (12 percent), former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (11 percent), and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (11 percent), rounded out the Republican top five.
This poll result is bad news for the GOP for at least two reasons.
The first is that Trump’s support has nearly doubled in the last month. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (who is trapped in margin of error purgatory, with a * in the CNN poll, down from 1 percent last month) asserts that Trump’s rise is due to the fact that he’s gotten lots of national press coverage. And while that’s true to a point, it’s not like Trump is an obscure businessman with whom GOP voters are just becoming familiar. Instead he’s a known quantity; what’s changed--and the reason he’s gotten coverage--is that he’s become the face of birtherism. This is an electorate, in other words, that finds appeal in the crazy. [Vote now: Is Trump's bitherism just a stunt?]
But let’s be serious for a moment; Donald Trump is probably not running for president. In all likelihood this is a combination of ego gratification and television show promotion. And even if he does run he’ll almost certainly get savaged in the GOP primary. As Steve Benen notes:
even the right-wing fringe will balk when they learn Trump was a pro-choice advocate of universal health care, a donor to Democratic candidates, and a supporter of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Those problems will be compounded by Trump’s declaration yesterday that he would run as an independent if his (theoretical) GOP bid were rejected. The very act of seeking a party’s presidential nomination is a request for loyalty from that party’s faithful; it’s rather hard to do that while vowing disloyalty to them if they spurn you. [Check out a roundup of this month's best political cartoons.]
But as Hot Air’s Allahpundit observes, Trump’s rise is a sign of how pathetic the GOP field currently is.
I don’t know what’s scarier for Mitt — the idea that his support is so soft that it’ll melt from two weeks of the guy from “The Apprentice” talking about Obama’s birth certificate, or the possibility that his decline isn’t Trump-related at all and is apt to persist even when Donaldmania cools. CNN’s pollster notes that Romney’s support actually drops without Trump in the race, which points directly at the second theory, but I dunno. They are an awful lot alike in some ways…
Indeed, as Allahpundit and others have argued, Trump is almost Romney-esque in his transparent willingness to flip flop (or at the very least painfully contort) on issues like abortion and healthcare reform. Is it possible that Trump is Romney, only drained of every last iota of shame?