The holes in Donald Trump's campaign

Campaign 2016
by Kent Covington & Nick Eicher
Posted 9/30/15, 02:22 pm

The staff of The World and Everything in It has profiled 22 possible 2016 presidential candidates in its “White House Wednesday” series. Now they take a look at who’s ahead and who’s making moves as the primaries get closer.

Donald Trump is still the frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination, but a look at polls from previous elections shows maybe that’s not the ideal position at this point.

Four years ago, Texas Gov. Rick Perry held a strong lead in the Republican polls. And on this day in 2007, Hillary Clinton had a 17-point advantage over a little-known senator from Illinois, Barack Obama.

“I’ve said a lot, look, early polls don’t mean anything,” said Terry Sullivan, the campaign manager for Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. Rubio is polling in the second-tier of candidates under Trump right now, along with Dr. Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina. “Turns out, I was wrong,” Sullivan continued. “They mean if you are in first place in the second week of September, you are guaranteed to not be the nominee of your party.”

Over the past few weeks, Trump has trended downward, losing about 7 points in the polls. He now has 23 percent of Republican voters’ support. Trump’s outlandishness could be wearing thin. He had an embarrassing moment last week at the Values Voter Summit when he called Rubio a “clown” and got booed for it. Though Trump still benefits from name recognition and deep pockets, he’s a long way from the kind of support he needs to win the nomination. Though people still say they would vote for him, his negatives are high and his favorability is falling. And while he has passionate supporters, the question remains, can he appeal broadlyenough to be able to win the nomination? 

In surveys about possible general-election match-ups, Trump is far and away the worst performer against any viable Democrat. Three new polls even show him losing by a wide margin to self-declared socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. That’s problem No. 1 for Trump.

Problem No. 2 is that, for voters who want an “outsider” candidate, there are other options in Carson and Fiorina. And No. 3, Trump’s conservative credentials are vulnerable. He has, in the past, been to the left-of-center on a number of big issues. He used to support abortion without restrictions; now he says he’s pro-life. Just last month in a Fox News interview, he talked about all the wonderful things Planned Parenthood does for women’s health, after stating he would be in favor of defunding the organization. And that’s just one example of an issue where he will be hit hard if he stays in the lead.

Listen to White House Wednesday on The World and Everything in It.

Carson learns the hard way

Dr. Ben Carson, like Donald Trump, benefits from some of the anti-establishment passion in the Republican Party right now. But Carson’s biggest asset is his manner: He comes across as a genuine and likable person. He’s got an amazing life story, coming out of poverty to become a world-renowned neurosurgeon. 

At a campaign manager forum earlier this month, Barry Bennett, who runs Carson’s campaign, talked about Carson’s demeanor and the contrast he provides to Trump and others. 

“Talking and behaving different is very important,” Bennet said. “He distinguishes himself from the rest of them. And so at the debate, I always hear, ‘Oh, I wish he were yelling and throwing bombs like the rest of them.’ Well, that’s not him.”

But being a political outsider has its disadvantages, too. No matter how brilliant he may be, a career as a surgeon does not prepare someone to be president of the United States, some people say. 

Carson also struggles with message discipline, or deciding what he wants to talk about and not allowing himself to veer from it. But veer he did, recently, when asked whether a Muslim should be president. His answer was deemed controversial, and he’s spent the last week or two clarifying those remarks and fending off attacks. It’s not the first time this sort of thing has happened to him.

Being a politician is a job, and Carson’s learning it in the most grueling setting possible—a presidential campaign.

Nick Eicher

Nick lives in St. Louis, loves the Blues (as in the NHL), is executive producer of WORLD Radio, and co-hosts WORLD's radio news magazine The World and Everything in It. Follow Nick on Twitter @NickEicher.

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