Fun fact: In 2011, the last time he flirted with running for president, Public Policy Polling had him up nationally by nine points at one early moment and just six points behind Romney in Mitt’s stronghold of New Hampshire. Trump always polls better than you’d think by dint of name recognition. The difference this time is that he really is running, raising one of the more suspenseful questions of Campaign 2016: How long will his numbers hold once Republicans get a good look at him on the stump?
One possibility is that he becomes a joke by fall and finds a pretext to quit the race before voters can humiliate him at the polls. The other is that he goes full Pat Buchanan and wins New Hampshire as a grand Granite State middle finger to the GOP establishment. The tough spot for Trump will be if he’s in contention in NH this winter but not obviously poised to win — say, within six points of Bush, Rubio, Walker, etc. Does he stick around for the vote and give himself a shot at the upset or does he pull the plug to avoid the embarrassment of fizzling? That’s the spot he’s in, per Suffolk, for this fleeting moment.
This isn’t the first poll lately to show Trump in double digits in New Hampshire. Gravis Marketing put him at 12 percent a few weeks ago. This is, however, the first poll to put Scott Walker in single digits since last September, back when Chris Christie was still a serious contender in the state. This is also the first NH poll to put Rand Paul as low as four percent; his previous low, detected a few weeks ago in a poll by Morning Consult, was nine. Either this new one from Suffolk’s an outlier or Trump’s arrival is cannibalizing some of Walker’s and Paul’s votes. I can sort of buy that for Rand — some of his previous support may have come from protest voters who are now migrating towards Trump — but why would anyone quit Walker for the Donald? If you want to stop Jeb in New Hampshire and beyond, the quiet midwestern guy is obviously a safer bet than the loudmouth billionaire from NYC.
Despite being in second place in the field, Trump easily has the lowest favorable rating of any major Republican contender at 37/49. (By comparison, Chris Christie’s at 43/42.) Four years ago, in PPP’s poll of NH, his favorables were 41/43. He’s actually less popular now than he was then. Even so, when asked which candidates should be included in the debates, fully 60 percent mention Trump, a number greater than the number who say so for Lindsey Graham, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, or Ben Carson. You can understand why — even if you hate him, he always puts on a good show — but it’s surprising to me that New Hampshirites might be willing to indulge Trump in a year when their primary looks to be even more important than usual, if that’s possible. In a field with so many strong candidates, NH is effectively going to set the narrative for the rest of the campaign. Bush, Paul, Walker, Rubio, and Christie will be all-in there. If Jeb wins, the “frontrunner” theme is set. If Christie wins, he’s the comeback kid. If Rand wins, he’s a more serious force in the party than anyone thought, his “maverick” tendencies notwithstanding. And if Walker or Rubio wins, the establishment favorite Bush will be back on his heels, stunned by the young upstart. Hard to believe New Hampshire voters would crap away all of their influence over that just to give Trump a moment in the sun. But then, there’s no denying the guy’s populist appeal. Read this and you’ll see: He’s really going to shake up the way Washington does business, huh?
The more I think about it, the more a Trump candidacy reminds me of what a Thornton Melon candidacy might have looked like — minus the relatability. And with a little Sam Kinison mixed in.