If media attention is the oxygen of a Presidential candidate, then Donald Trump’s If media attention is the oxygen of the Presidential candidates, then Donald Trump’s Republican opponents must be hoping that their staffs remembered to bring along a few tanks of the stuff they can use to survive until the air becomes breathable again on the campaign trail. Donald Trump is not only sucking up all of the media attention in the room, he is sucking up all of the political oxygen in the country. The other Republican candidates are starving for media attention and the Republican establishment must be deeply troubled.
Early on the Republican elites probably chalked up Trump’s early success in the polls to his anti establishment rhetoric and to disaffected voters’ weariness with the mess in Washington, but they believed that Trump would be a short lived flash in the pan. Sure they were a bit concerned that Trump was turning off Hispanic voters and is famous for his sexist and demeaning comments about women, two voting blocks where the Republican need to make significant improvements to win the White House in 2016, but they probably figured that Trump would be a faded memory by Election Day. They were counting on the hyperbolic statements Trump slings around like trinkets at a Mardi Gras parade eventually falling flat and that his uncensored style would soon produce mistakes from which he could not recover.
The Republican establishment may well be right about Trump in the long run and he might eventually fade into the sunset, but he doesn’t appear to be going anywhere soon. He is still big on hyperbole and short on facts. He has also made mistakes such as his attack on the war record of John McCain and his classless remarks during the debate to Megyn Kelly, but he doesn’t seem to be paying the expected price for them. The lunatic fringe of the GOP loves him and Trump still leads all of the other Republican candidates by a comfortable margin in the most recent national polls while his chief rivals Bush and Walker appear to be slipping. Trump leads his nearest rival Scott Walker by five percentages points in Iowa and leads second place Jeb Bush by five percentages points in New Hampshire. These polls, in the first two states to hold Republican Presidential contests, were taken after the debate and after initial fallout from the Kelly fiasco. In the next two states to decide among the Republican candidates, Trump also owns a commanding lead in South Carolina and even has a one percentage point lead over Jeb Bush in his home state of Florida.
However, what should be even more troubling to the Republican establishment is the manner in which Trump has been completely dominated the daily news cycles. This is the time in the Presidential election cycle when the “respectable” Republican candidates should be introducing themselves to the American public, publishing their policy statements, and trying to differentiate themselves from their opponents. With 15 major Republican candidates vying for the ultimate prize, this would be difficult under the best of circumstances. However, with Trump dominating the cable news channels, the other Republican candidates are struggling to even get minimum media coverage. Scott Walker’s long anticipated announcement of his candidacy was barely reported and Jeb Bush gave a major speech on his foreign policy positions which went virtually unnoticed. Rand Paul was reduced to taking a chainsaw to volumes of tax code to try to garner some media attention.
According to a recent article from NBC News, “Data provided by Google to the journalism site FiveThirtyEight found that 46 percent of the media coverage over the last month about the GOP candidates was about Trump, as measured by articles that appeared in Google News. That’s compared to 13 percent of articles about Jeb Bush, who got the second-most attention.” Based what I have seen on CNN during the few days proceeding and following the Fox News debate, Trump has been getting at least 90% of the Republican candidate coverage and better than 60% of all of the CNN air time. The only occasions when the other candidates were even mentioned was when they attacked Trump or he retaliated in kind. Even when coverage of Trump was “negative” (i.e., the Megyn Kelly incident), Trump was offered plenty of interview time to defend himself and remind all of us how great he is. During the last week or so we haven’t heard much about Jeb Bush, Scott Walker or any of the other Republican candidates.
I expect that eventually the over-the-top media coverage of Trump’s campaign will subside, but the question of how long he will remain the main focus of the media’s attention is unanswerable at this time. Trump is a new and interesting, unconcerned “non-politician” who provides the news outlets with an infinite number of story lines and as long as he remains one of the leaders in the polls they will have an excuse to cover him. The real question then becomes how long can Trump remain viable.
RealClearPolitics.com’s average of the last five national polls shows Trump ahead with 22.8% of the probable Republican voters and 10.8% ahead of his nearest rival, Jeb Bush, but that is in huge field of 15 candidates. Putting Trump’s numbers in perspective Republicans and the independents who lean Republican make up just 42% of our country’s voting population. Doing a little math (22.8% x 42% = 9.6%) so Trump’s present supporters make up less than 10% of the country voting population. More importantly, one poll showed the 55% of Republican voters were less inclined to vote for Trump after the debate then before it and that doesn’t bode well for his chances of capturing the GOP nomination. As some Republican candidates run out of support and money and drop out of the race, Trump’s shelf live will depend a great deal on whether he will be able attract the former supporters of those dropouts.
Perry, Santorum, Jindal, Graham appear the most likely to be among the first to pull out of the race since none of the four got better than 1% in the latest nationwide poll and none of them have never garnered more than 2% of the Republican vote. In addition, none of these four earned more than 2% in Iowa or 1% in New Hampshire, the sites the first two Republican contests. Unless something dramatic happens, I don’t see any of the four surviving past the first four caucuses and primaries set for February of 2016 and they may run out of money before that. Rick Perry has already told his campaign staff that he no longer has the money to pay them. However, collectively they have so few supporters that even if all four dropped out tomorrow, their absence will have virtually no effect Trump’s standing in the polls. I would think that the remaining candidates will probably remain in the race through Super Tuesday, March 1, 2016 when Republicans in twelve states cast their ballots for the Party’s nominee.
So I think that it is very possible that Donald Trump will still be around causing absolute havoc in the Republican ranks and sucking up most of the media’s oxygen for at least the next five and half months. And depending on the results in the early primaries and caucuses he could be still around and kicking well after that. Trump, the ultimate anti establishment candidate, has struck a cord with disaffected radical right base of the GOP base who are sick and tired of being told by Party’s elite to vote for establishment candidates like McCain and Romney because “they have the best chance to win”, only to lose the election anyway. Savvy Democrats may be praying that Trump wins the Republican nomination, but realistically they will probably have to be satisfied with the damage he will cause the more viable Republicans candidates’ chances of winning the general election before he is shown the door.