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Could Donald Trump actually win GOP nod?

Here's how Donald Trump could do Hillary Clinton a favor

In the latest McClatchy-Marist poll, the odds are in Hillary Clinton's favor against the widening GOP field. Take a look at the Trump factor. (Marist Institute for Public Opinion and McClatchy)
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In the latest McClatchy-Marist poll, the odds are in Hillary Clinton's favor against the widening GOP field. Take a look at the Trump factor. (Marist Institute for Public Opinion and McClatchy)

Donald Trump could win the Republican presidential nomination.

Really.

The wealthy real estate mogul remains a long shot. But the brash Republican frontrunner is primed to remain strong for the foreseeable future. No matter how offensive his remarks, polls confirm he retains a dedicated and growing corps of supporters.

Campaign funding certainly won’t be a problem. Trump’s a billionaire.

His rivals still haven’t figured out how to handle him. Should they attack and risk energizing his already-motivated base? Ignore him, and leave his assertions and insults unanswered? Or simply show appreciation for his knack for expressing the wishes of frustrated voters?

Trump is competitive in Iowa, site of the first caucus. “Of course Trump can win Iowa, as is the case for any presidential candidate that generates that type of media attention and combines it with solid ground game,” said Craig Robinson, editor-in-chief of TheIowaRepublican.com, a partisan web site.

Donald Trump entered the 2016 presidential race on June 16, 2015. Find out where he stands on four of the biggest issues this election: immigration, ISIS, job growth and gay marriage. (Daniel Desrochers/McClatchy DC)

He's running a better Iowa campaign than Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Jeb Bush, and all sorts of people think they can win.

Craig Robinson, editor-in-chief of TheIowaRepublican.com

Trump’s campaign is confident.

“His odds are very very good of getting the nomination,” said Trump Campaign Manager Corey Lewandowski. “He’s the only person in the field not beholden to special interests and lobbyists.”

He also has a proven record in the private sector.

Trump still faces a huge challenge because the factors creating the Summer of Trump traditionally fade with the heat. People today are fed up? They want an outsider? Fine for cheering at rallies and complaining to pollsters. It’s quite another matter to pick a commander-in-chief by secret ballot, which is why protest candidates usually fade fast.

Here’s how Trump could maintain his lead when it counts, and why he faces a daunting task doing so:

1. WHY TRUMP CAN WIN: Voters have been in a surly mood for years, and Trump has electrified them like few others in recent years. Polls consistently show people see Washington as hopelessly gridlocked.

18% Congress’ approval rating in latest Monmouth University Polling Institute survey

WHY HE CAN’T: Smart presidential contenders understand the same sentiment and will make pitches to the same audience. Two other outsiders have already gained notice. Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson has a decent following, particularly in Iowa, and former executive Carly Fiorina got a boost after her debate performance last week. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas is also popular among the disgruntled.

2. WHY TRUMP CAN WIN: The 17-person Republican field is fractured, so Trump’s 25 percent support, should he maintain it, could win a lot of primaries and caucuses. Lewandowski puts that support higher, pointing to a Morning Consult tracking poll showing his lead had grown after the debate. Usually, the February Iowa caucus and New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries winnow the field. This time, campaign finance rules make it easier for more candidates to accumulate bigger treasuries, which could allow them to stick around longer.

32% Trump’s showing in latest Morning Consult poll of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents

WHY HE CAN’T: Big donors, as well as establishment types, want a good bet to win the November election. At this point, that’s not Trump. Chances are that as the voting begins, they’ll coalesce behind an alternative. “There will be deals made,” said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

3. WHY TRUMP CAN WIN: He says what a lot of Americans are thinking, even if his language and tone are raw and often offensive. So far, his insults to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, Mexicans and women haven’t hurt his poll standing. Sixty-two percent of Republican voters viewed him favorably after the debate, said the Morning Consult poll.

WHY HE CAN’T: He’s showing no growth, his negatives are unusually high, and “the potential for self-immolation is always there,” said Sabato. The Morning Consult survey found 52 percent of all voters viewed Trump in a negative light. As voters get serious, they tend to want someone whose temperament is equally serious to lead the country. “This is just watching the circus,” said Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.

4. WHY TRUMP CAN WIN: He’s independent of the Republican establishment. Let the big money types get together and pick an alternative; that just bolsters Trump’s argument he’s truly unshackled from the influence from Wall Street or anyone else with deep pockets.

WHY HE CAN’T: Voters may cheer outsiders, but they also usually pick people who understand the political system and can make it work. After eight years of President Barack Obama, who had a slim resume in national politics when he was elected, they could want someone more savvy.

5. WHY TRUMP CAN WIN: He’s putting together a national political organization and plans to issue a series of position papers, notably on the economy. That’ll add heft to his campaign.

WHY HE CAN’T: Trump’s going to have to be able to discuss in depth, and with an air of thoughtfulness, positions on the day’s weightiest issues. So far, he’s shown little evidence he has the kind of patience and temperament to act like a president.

He’ll be questioned on whether he can master the political system, particularly since he’s running against nine former or current governors and five current or former U.S. senators.

About all that’s certain is this: “As long as the field remains this crowded, “ said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute in New Jersey, “Trump could retain a nominal lead in the polls.”

For now.

 

David Lightman: 202-383-6101, @lightmandavid

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