In a recent interview with the Associated Press, Donald Trump said something interesting:
[T]he GOP front-runner displayed rare, if fleeting, moments of humility and introspection.
“I think I could lose a state, sure,” Trump said of the first three states to vote in next year’s presidential primaries. “If I came in second or third I think that would be, you know, I wouldn’t be happy, ’cause I want to win.”
I bring this up because, hey, a poll came out Monday that wasn’t very good news for Trump:
Stoked by evangelical and tea-party support, Ted Cruz has surged to first place in Iowa, according to the results of a Monmouth University poll released Monday surveying voters likely to participate in the Republican caucus on Feb. 1.
Cruz earned 24 percent of support among likely caucus-goers, with 19 percent opting for Donald Trump, whose polling advantage in the state has dwindled in recent weeks. In a Quinnipiac University survey conducted in mid-November, Trump held a slim 25 percent to 23 percent advantage over Cruz, while retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson finished with 18 percent.
In this survey, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio finished third with 17 percent, followed by 13 percent for Carson (a 19-point drop from October).
Now, sharp readers might be well aware that another Iowa poll came out from CNN, showing Trump doing much better at 33 percent as opposed to Cruz’s 20 percent. Why the gap between the two polls? CNN explains:
The Monmouth poll interviewed a sample drawn from registered voter lists that primarily comprised those who had voted in state-level Republican primary elections in previous election years. Among those voters, Monmouth found Cruz and Rubio ahead of Trump and Carson. Among voters who were not regular GOP primary voters, however, the poll found Trump ahead, similar to the CNN/ORC poll’s finding.
The CNN/ORC Poll drew its sample from Iowa adults, asking those reached about their intention to participate in their caucus, interest in news about the caucuses, and past participation patterns to determine who would be a likely voter.
Now it’s certainly possible that Trump will cause a massive influx of new caucus attendees, but my money is on that not happening in the same way that Howard Dean’s grass-roots support never materialized into actual votes. And as a good political scientist, I also buy Nate Silver’s argument that the current polls are inflating his support.
All of this was before Trump’s latest badly written policy screed about banning all Muslims from entering the United States. Vox’s Andrew Prokop suggests that this is a winning move for Trump because it keeps him in the news. But it also has led GOP officials in early states to weigh in as well.
So yes, I remain pretty confident that Donald Trump is going to lose. And if he does lose in the early states, I don’t see how he regains the momentum against whichever candidates get a new flush of media attention and GOP support.
That doesn’t mean Trump is necessarily irrelevant. My Post colleague Dave Weigel cogently made this point last week:
Losing campaigns have [remade political parties] again and again. Ronald Reagan didn’t win in 1976; you know how that turned out. Pat Robertson’s 1988 primary campaign cemented the influence of the religious right in Republican electoral politics. Howard Dean’s 2004 primary campaign collapsed memorably in Iowa, but accelerated the Democratic Party’s evolution from a party that could put Joe Lieberman on a national ticket to one that was skeptical or apologetic about foreign military intervention. Indeed, by the autumn of 2006, Dean was chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and Lieberman had lost his Senate primary.
Of course, this depends on how Trump handles losing, and how the GOP handles a losing Trump. But it’s Trump dealing with bad political news that fascinates me. How will he handle bad news and waning momentum? What happens when the high from leading the polls wears off? Is it possible, after today, for him to go even more extremist in his rhetoric?
The first three months of 2016 will offer up some interesting political theater, but nothing quite so interesting as Donald Trump facing political reality.