It is by now incontestable that that Donald Trump is the clear popular front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, with polls showing him preferred by around 25% of Republican voters. In a very crowded field, 25% pretty much guarantees him a big lead over any second place contender.
I would add that the polls probably underestimate Trump’s current competitiveness in Republican presidential primaries: most people, including most Republicans, don’t vote in primaries. Those who do tend to be the most committed—the most ideologically extreme, the most fired up about one or another issue. None of his rivals in the Republican horse race has shown anywhere near the same ability to fire people up. It is likely that Republican primary electorates will tend to be more favorable to Trump than Republican voters generally.
Is it surprising that a maliciously incendiary buffoon is leading the Republican field? It shouldn’t be. As Timothy Egan pointed out recently:
They say he’s trashing the Republic brand. They say he’s “stirring up the crazies.”…But Trump is the brand, to a sizable degree….Trump is a byproduct of all the toxic elements Republicans have thrown into their brew over the last decade or so — from birtherism to race-based hatred of immigrants, from nihilists who shut down government to elected officials who shout “You lie!” at their commander in chief.
After all, various polls of Republican voters since Obama entered the White House have shown that considerably more than 25% believed 1) that Obama was not born in the US 2) that he is a Muslim 3) that he is “on the side of the terrorists” 4) that climate change is not human-caused. So, there is a very large audience for craziness among the Republican faithful. Trump, who has no inhibitions about talking and acting crazy, is a natural for that audience.
An incendiary buffoon has zero chance of getting elected president of the US, which is largely why Trump’s chances of winning the Republican nomination are close to zero. The Republican field of contenders will in time winnow down, and ultimately 25% won’t be enough to secure primary victories against just one or two other leading contenders. Republicans—voters as well as leaders—want to win, and Trump won’t do.
Besides, as a Republican, Trump is vulnerable to attacks on his incoherent record, which over the past two decades includes a period as a registered Democrat, hefty campaign contributions to Democrats, and advocacy of stiff taxes on the rich and single-payer health care. As the conservative American Enterprise Institute’s Thomas Miller has put it, “His hair has been more permanent than his political positions. It’s a total random assortment of whatever plays publicly.” In 1999, Trump declared, “I just believe the Republicans are just too crazy right.” In 2004, he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, “It just seems that the economy does better under Democrats.” This isn’t the kind of stuff that makes Republican voters happy.
A while back I wrote that the Republican presidential contest was uninteresting, since all the candidates are so close ideologically. Trump’s doomed candidacy may not have made the race any more interesting, but at least it has made it more entertaining.