Donald Trump Rides Birtherism to GOP 2012 Frontrunner Status

Bad news today for Obama, but worse news for the GOP

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Polls giveth and polls taketh away. On the same day that Gallup released polling numbers showing that President Obama’s job approval has sunk to the lowest point of his tenure, Public Policy Polling unveiled a poll showing that the clear frontrunner to carry the GOP mantel challenging Obama is … Donald Trump.

On the whole, I’d say it was a pretty good day for the president.

First the bad news for the White House: Gallup has Obama at 41 percent. Worse is that independents approve of his job at a clip of 35 percent, which is 13 points lower than their average approval of him for his term. Obviously the budget deal bought him no support while the ever-rising price of gasoline is weighing him down. [Peruse political cartoons about President Obama.]

But why dwell on bad news when there are fresh Donald Trump poll numbers to revel in?

Today’s PPP poll is a cornucopia of bad news for the GOP. Set The Donald aside for a moment and contemplate the ongoing rise of birtherism: Nearly one quarter (23 percent) of Republican primary voters surveyed said that they would only vote for a birther candidate. An additional 39 percent were neutral on the issue, leaving only 38 percent of GOP primary voters who would foreswear a birther candidate. [See editorial cartoons about the 2012 GOP field.]

If any more evidence was needed that Trump’s birtherism has fueled his rapid rise to frontrunner status, 37 percent of those who will only consider birthers support Trump, with former Govs. Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin tied for second in that group with 13 percent.

The notion of an actual Trump run still seems fairly far fetched, but as PPP’s Tom Jensen points out, these numbers still are bad, bad news for the GOP:

…if he doesn't [run] someone who taps into the same sort of hard, hard right sentiment he's appealing to right now will get their votes--it's hard to imagine these folks voting for a more centrist candidate like Romney or Pawlenty. And that means there's a very serious contingent within the Republican Party that's less concerned with beating Barack Obama than having a nominee who gets them fired up. That suggests many GOP voters have not learned the lessons of Nevada and Delaware and that Obama may survive despite his weak approval numbers because the Republicans end up defeating themselves.

The lessons of Nevada and Delaware, from the 2010 elections: In the senate races in those states, Tea Party activists managed to nominate the candidate who most fired them up … who also happened to be the silliest candidates in the field. In Nevada that meant that incumbent Sen. Harry Reid, who had approval ratings much like Obama’s today, was able to win surprisingly comfortably because, among other things, opponent Sharron Angle wanted to phase out Medicare (an idea, incidentally, the House GOP voted this afternoon to make law). In Delaware that meant prohibitive frontrunner Mike Castle was ousted in favor of not-a-witch Christine O’Donnell.

[Check out political cartoons about the Tea Party movement.]

Some adults in the GOP did learn those lessons (or more accurately, warned of those mistakes even as they were being made) and have been telling anyone who will listen that birtherism is a liberal trap--which raises the question of whether the way to dispel one paranoid theory is with another one: Birtherism isn’t simply wrong, it’s a secret liberal plot!

As for Trump, I’ll believe he actually runs when I see it. Until then, the estimable Charlie Cook, who has forgotten more about politics than most of us will know, accurately summed him up today in a column headlined, “Donald Trump Is a Joke,” a notion driven home by Indecision Forever’s Dennis DiClaudio.

  • Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the GOP 2012 candidates.
  • Read more about the 2012 presidential race.
  • See photos of the Obamas behind the scenes.