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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Trump Card

I know, I know, early presidential nominating polls are not very meaningful, and usually reflect name ID as much as anything else, and yes, I know, “national” polls of this nature are especially insignificant, because a handful of early states are likely to determine the nomination. But still, PPP’s new poll showing Donald Trump pulling out to a big lead (at 26%, he has higher numbers than anyone has shown in any national poll that I’ve seen) over the entire GOP presidential field is pretty shocking.
Equally shocking is PPP’s finding that 23% of self-identified Republicans say they won’t vote for any candidate “who firmly stated they believed Barack Obama was born in the United States,” with another 39% being unsure if they could stomach such a radical proposition. Trump pulls 37% among the self-proclaimed birthers, and 28% among the maybe-birthers, so it’s reasonably clear his overall standing isn’t just the product of being a television celebrity.
Now maybe he won’t run, or he’ll run as an indie, or he won’t run seriously (there seems to be a lot of doubt about whether he’s remotely as rich as he claims to be), or those voters expressing support for him will reject him when they know more about his background and views. I certainly don’t think he’s in any danger of winning the nomination. But the real issue is that if he maintains or increases these levels of popularity among rank-and-file Republicans, the tolerance of GOP insiders for lower levels of craziness is bound to increase, giving them exactly what they do not need right now: another big push to the right.
Already, “mainstream” candidates are making some pretty crazy sounds. Newt Gingrich is addicted to Muslim-baiting. The quintessentially unthreatening Tim Pawlenty has recently been flirting with gold standard advocacy, while opposing the last appropriations deal and saying extremely irresponsible things about the upcoming debt limit vote. They’ve all adopted the habit of calling the current administration “socialist” and referring to rich people exclusively as “job-producers.” What’s next? Mitt Romney buying ads to endorse the Atlas Shrugged movie? Haley Barbour coming out for repeal of the 14th amendment? Who knows.
Perhaps some candidate will successfully play the Trump Card by convincing the powers that be in the GOP to quietly designate him or her as the one who can save the party from The Donald’s level of kookiness, and get a blank check to compete with him for the crazy-person vote. If so, things could get very weird on the campaign trail.

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