About a week ago, a Monmouth University poll showed Donald Trump crossing a striking threshold: the survey showed the New York developer reaching 41% in the Republican primary at the national level. The obvious question was whether this was an outlier to be dismissed or evidence of Trump’s ceiling reaching new heights.
The evidence now points towards the latter. A day after the Monmouth poll was released, a Washington Post/ABC News poll showed Trump leading the GOP pack with 38%. And on Friday, a Fox News poll, conducted entirely after last week’s debate, raised even more eyebrows:
1. Donald Trump: 39% (up from 28% in November)
2. Ted Cruz: 18% (up from 14%)
3. Marco Rubio: 11% (down from 14%)
4. Ben Carson: 9% (down from 18%)
Every other competitor in the Republican field was at 3% or lower, including Jeb Bush, who’s down to 3%, which is his lowest point to date. At the top, Trump’s national 39% support is the strongest performance of any GOP candidate in any Fox poll this year, and his 21-point lead – he’s now ahead of Cruz, Rubio, and Carson combined – is also the largest advantage any Republican has enjoyed in 2015.
There’s also the latest survey from Public Policy Polling, which was also conducted entirely after last week’s debate:
1. Donald Trump: 34% (up from 26% in November)
2. Ted Cruz: 18% (up from 14%)
3. Marco Rubio: 13% (unchanged)
4. Jeb Bush: 7% (up from 5%)
5. Ben Carson: 6% (down from 19%)
This seems like a good time to pause and think about some historical context – because next year, something unprecedented is going to happen.
Based on the latest, overall national averages, Trump isn’t just the leading Republican candidate, he’s actually dominating by more than 20 points. These same overall averages show the frontrunner, at least for now, with more support than Cruz and Rubio combined.
When was the last time a Republican presidential candidate led by more than 20 points in late December and failed to win his party’s nomination? Never. It just hasn’t happened.
Now, some caveats are probably in order. When I say “never,” I’m referring to the modern era: election cycles in which polling existed and in which Republican primary and caucus voters chose the GOP nominee in contested races.
In other words, we’re basically looking at 40 years’ worth of presidential elections (for Democrats, it’s 44 years, but since Nixon ran effectively unopposed in 1972, it’s 40 for the GOP). In that time, no Republican had a national lead this big and ended up losing.
The only candidate who’s in the same league is Rudy Giuliani, who enjoyed big early leads in 2007 – before voters got to know him – but by Christmas Week eight years ago, his lead was either modest or non-existent, a far cry from Trump’s advantages now. What’s more, Giuliani’s support in early nominating states had already collapsed by this point in the process, while Trump remains a top-tier contender in all of the early contests.
Am I saying Trump is going to win the nomination? Not exactly. I am saying we’re looking at a dynamic in which we’ll either see (a) the biggest Republican collapse in modern American history; or (b) the first Republican nominee since 1940 with no experience in public office.
Either way, we’re going to see a result without modern precedent. Buckle up.