In case you’re still wondering whether that bombshell WSJ/NBC poll last night showing Cruz ahead nationally was an outlier, here’s new evidence from CBS that it is. The numbers for Trump and Cruz here are right in line with virtually every other recent national poll:
Donald Trump (35 percent) continues to hold a commanding lead over the rest of the field, with a 17 point lead over his closest rival, Texas Senator Ted Cruz (18 percent). John Kasich (11 percent) has now risen to a virtual third-place tie with Marco Rubio (12 percent)…
Trump’s support cuts across nearly every demographic group in the Republican electorate. He holds a double digit lead among Republicans and independents, men and women, white evangelicals, and Americans of all income levels. He leads among Republican voters of all age and education levels, but does particularly well among voters without college degrees…
As attention shifts to the Supreme Court after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, Republican primary voters are split between Donald Trump (25 percent) and Ted Cruz (25 percent) over who is most trusted to make appointments to the Supreme Court.
Yes, really. As many Republicans trust Donald Trump to make a good appointment to the Supreme Court as trust Ted effin’ Cruz. An amazing footnote to this poll: Trump is pulling just 50 percent when Republicans are asked whether he shares their values, which is worse than either Cruz or Rubio, and when people are asked whether his policies are “realistic,” they split … 44/50. (Both Rubio and Cruz exceed 57 percent on the same question.) The guy who’s leading the field nationally by 17 points can’t pull a bare majority in his own party on a basic question like whether his agenda is feasible or not. But then, we saw that phenomenon at work yesterday in the Monmouth poll of South Carolina too. Even though Trump’s favorable rating was relatively low at 50/41, that was still plenty enough for him to lead comfortably for the simple reason that most people who like Trump like him enough to vote for him. His support is relatively narrow, consistently falling short of 40 percent, but it’s a mile deep. The guy could conceivably win the nomination with a favorable rating within his own party below 50 percent.
One obvious criticism of CBS’s numbers here is that the poll was conducted from February 12th, the day before the last debate, through the 16th. The WSJ/NBC poll was conducted entirely after the debate, leading people to wonder if maybe they were picking up movement away from Trump over his “Bush lied” answer about Iraq. CBS doesn’t mention anything about Trump’s numbers declining after the debate, though, and if he’s averaging 35 percent over the course of five days, he’d have needed to start extremely high on the 12th — in the neighborhood of 43-45 percent or so — for him to land at 35 now assuming he dipped as far after the debate as WSJ/NBC insists. Which brings us to the new Fox News poll of South Carolina. This one was conducted entirely after the debate, and the numbers for the top three candidates are highly consistent with what other polls of SC have been showing for the past week:
Trump captures 32 percent among South Carolina likely Republican primary voters. Ted Cruz gets 19 percent to Marco Rubio’s 15 percent. These are the only three candidates earning double-digit support…
Trump has more supporters (83 percent) who feel “certain” they will vote for him than Cruz (73 percent) or Rubio (71 percent).
The race remains consistent when first and second vote choices are combined: Trump 41 percent, Cruz 35 percent, Rubio 32 percent, Bush and Carson 20 percent each, and Kasich 16 percent.
Very much of note: In both the Fox poll of SC and the CBS national poll, Trump continues to lead Cruz and Rubio among evangelicals. You can spin that if you like by saying that it wouldn’t be the case in a two-man race but (a) Cruz always expected to beat Trump among evangelicals even with competition from other candidates (and he did beat him among that group in Iowa per the exit polls) and (b) unless Rubio collapses on Saturday night, it’s highly unlikely we’re going to end up with a two-man race before the SEC primary on March 1st, which means Trump’s going to clean up partly on the strength of his evangelical support. A pillar of Cruz’s strategy, that the guy who represents “New York values” can’t possibly beat the consensus choice among evangelical leaders in the south, is in danger of failing badly. I don’t know how Cruz wins if it does.
Here’s the only bad news for Trump in the Fox poll:
That’s why so many people think Trump is doomed if the race devolves into a binary choice. There are many, many Republicans who’ll vote for the alternative just because he isn’t Trump. Even this, though, I’d argue isn’t as bad for Trump as it looks. All things considered, being under 40 percent at this point on the “never vote for” question, after endless affronts to dogmatic conservatism and various “gaffes” that would have destroyed other candidates, isn’t a terrible showing. Trump’s still potentially worth voting for to more than 60 percent of the party, roughly double his level of support in the topline numbers. What’s more, the CBS poll asked Republicans nationally whether they’d support Trump if he was the nominee. Twenty percent said they wouldn’t, which sounds ominous — until you realize that 18 percent said the same of Cruz and 17 percent said so of Rubio. There’s no reason yet to think there’s some unusually large movement of anti-Trump Republicans out there who are planning to stay home this fall.
I’ll leave you with this. When Republicans were asked this same question about Trump and Cruz, they split 51/44 and 57/36, respectively: