Two views: The Donald is an important addition... or he's not a real candidate

The first thing I heard on cable news after Trump finished his rather unusual announcement was from S.E. Cupp, who said that she had received an embargoed copy of the speech this morning… and Trump used none of it. But no matter… a show like that was bound to set the easily amused media ablaze for a while and the reactions came pouring in like gasoline on a brush fire. The scoffing from both sides was audible, except for the representative from the NRC who was careful to say that primary voters would be getting a wide variety of proposals to pick from this year.

So, as AP noted in the open thread, The Donald is in and this time he means it. So is this a viable candidacy or is he just looking to be an “impact candidate” who moves the rest of the field in his desired direction? There were two contradictory views which showed up almost instantly from two different sources. The first comes to us from the Wall Street Journal, which offers one chart to show why Trump’s candidacy is important.

Top-tier debates hosted by CNN and Fox News plan to limit the main stage to the top ten candidates, as determined by polls and other factors. A Trump bid for the White House makes it that much harder for lesser-known candidates to crack the top ten, or feel like they’re safely above the line. Here are the current poll standings, based on the average of recent polls compiled by Real Clear Politics.

Trump squeezes in at number 9 this week joining Bush, Walker, Carson, Rubio, Paul, Huck, Cruz and Perry. Who gets left out in the cold? Kasich, Santorum, Fiorina, Graham and Jindal. Now, that’s just this week. Frankly, I would venture a guess and say that through the process of making it official, it will take no more than three weeks for another round of polling from the big players and Trump will move up into the top five. (That’s not that tough of a trick at this point since he only needs to get out of single digits to be a first tier player.) Of course, there’s still no telling who else will be making moves up or down in the intervening time.

But the final word on the WSJ’s take remains the same. Somebody is going to lose their place on the stage *if* the debate masters stick to their guns and only have ten podiums available for the big shows. But shouldn’t Trump be entitled to his place there if he meets the qualifications? That leads to the second view referenced above. Harry Enten at FiveThirtyEight argues that he actually doesn’t because he’s not a real candidate to begin with.

A whopping 57 percent of Republicans have an unfavorable view of Trump, according to an average of the three most recent polls. That beats former record holder Pat Buchanan, who had a 43 percent unfavorable rating at this point in the 2000 election cycle.1 Buchanan, of course, ended up running as an independent.

Taking into account name recognition, Trump’s net favorability rating (favorable minus unfavorable) of -32 percentage points stands out for its pure terribleness at this point in the campaign. Like his unfavorable rating, it is by far the worst of the 106 presidential candidates since 1980 who are in our database.

For this reason alone, Trump has a better chance of cameoing in another “Home Alone” movie with Macaulay Culkin — or playing in the NBA Finals — than winning the Republican nomination.

I’m going to default to the same rule which should apply to any candidate from either party at this point: nonsense. There won’t be a single vote cast for more than six months, and in politics that’s enough time for an entire new species to arise and develop opposable thumbs. Trump could win people over and move up or any of the perceived big dogs could shoot themselves in the foot and plummet. Calling Trump a “can’t win” at this point is fictional.

But with that said, Enten does raise one cautionary point for Donald. Many of the candidates who have very low numbers right now are stuck in the basement largely because at least half the country hasn’t even heard of them yet, say nothing of having made up their minds. Trump is probably the only other person in the game with name recognition that is up in the range of Hillary Clinton’s. If he’s underwater at -32 with almost everyone having formed an opinion, well… that’s a lot of minds to change. Not to say it can’t be done, but if we’re going to take Trump’s bid seriously then he’s going to have to deal with the same realities as the rest of the hopefuls.