Why Donald Trump’s rise in polls should scare GOP

Independent presidential candidate H. Ross Perot with one of his ever-present economic charts.

Independent presidential candidate H. Ross Perot with one of his ever-present economic charts.

Many dismiss Donald Trump’s entry into the 2016 Republican presidential race as an ego trip or a joke. I offer one name as to why people should take him seriously: H. Ross Perot.

Trump, the real estate developer, reality TV show star, and professional blowhard, seems to be playing to a limited part of the base of the Republican Party that doesn’t care about insults, political correctness, or veracity. The voters who are choosing Trump as a preferred candidate — and polls show that their numbers are growing — are listening to what they want to hear, claiming that he’s a successful businessman who’s telling it like it is. Which sounds a lot like what people said about Perot, a billionaire businessman turned independent candidate in 1992 who won nearly 19 percent of the popular vote after all the ballots were counted.

Trump isn’t worried about offending people, as he clearly showed when he called Mexican immigrants drug smugglers and rapists when he announced his candidacy. Given multiple chances to backtrack on friendly news venues like Fox, he refused, instead doubling down on his criticism and insisting that others “know he’s right.”

Never mind that several business deals have fallen apart. NBC cancelled The Apprentice, telling Trump, “You’re fired.” NBC and Univision announced that they would not air the Miss USA pageant that Trump partially owns. Macy’s announced that it was phasing out its Donald Trump line of clothing. Of course, he’s threatened to sue, as he usually does.

No matter. A GOP megadonor named Stan Hubbard said the pageant will be shown on Reelz, a cable station at which he serves as CEO of the parent company, Hubbard Broadcasting. Hubbard Broadcasting gave $100,000 to GOP operative Karl Rove’s American Crossroads super PAC in 2012, so it’s not surprising that Hubbard called Trump’s Miss USA pageant a “perfect fit” for Reelz. The pageant’s co-hosts have both dropped out, but I’m sure Trump will find new blood — or maybe he’ll just do it himself.

To be sure, some of Trump’s support in the polls is based on name recognition. “You’re fired” has become part of the American lexicon. But there are true Trump believers.

“Trump has found support from Republican voters looking for a successful businessman to jumpstart an economic renaissance — and someone who won’t be bullied by anyone,” said a story in the National Journal. There’s even a pro-Trump super PAC, Citizens for Restoring USA.

At first, Trump’s poll numbers rose only in one New Hampshire poll. Then it was a national poll by Fox. Now there are multiple polls showing the rise of the Donald, in multiple states. A new CNN/ORC national poll gives him 12 percent of the vote, behind former Florida Gov. Jeb! Bush’s 17 percent. Trump is also tied for second in an new Iowa poll from Huffington Post, at 10 percent.

Those are still low numbers, given the plethora of candidates, and it’s way too early in the game to be worried about a Trump candidacy. Right, Republicans? Rove has repeatedly said the rest of the pack should just ignore Trump. But let’s hear from a few GOP voters.

Former New York Gov. George Pataki, one of the many would-be contenders who isn’t registering at all in any poll, tweeted, “Join me. Stand up now. Denounce Donald Trump’s comments today.” He included several other candidates who shared his low polling numbers, such as @JohnKasich, @GrahamBlog, and @GovChristie — Ohio Gov. John Kasich, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Boy, did he launch a Tweetnado, albeit an anonymous one. Here’s a sampling from Trump supporters:

@notmyname02: Absolutely not. He’s telling the truth. The man has balls.

@espowill123: Give it up. Trump is telling it like it is. We have enough empty suit Republicans.

@autgrind: I support Trump, because I support the truth. Have you ever heard of it? I doubt it

@FreedomHaawk: LOVE TRUMP. His statement is based on FACTS. FBI FACTS…

(Once again, showing that facts have a liberal bias.)

@cgroche: His criticism was aimed at the Mex Government. “That giant sucking sound” – Ross Perot.

@gforbespianist: Donald, if @GOP @GovernorPataki disses you, pls do what Lieberman did in ’06 CT election. We’ll vote #Trump!

I don’t think Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee come July 2016, and I don’t think he would waste money on a third-party candidacy. Another National Journal story said most political pollsters and experts believe that his support will fade, and I agree. But Republicans would do well to remember the lesson of Ross Perot.

Perot actually led polls in May 1992 in Texas and California over both incumbent President George H.W. Bush and Democratic challenger Bill Clinton. He led June polls nationally with 39 percent, over both Bush and Clinton. Perot’s famous line of “That giant sucking sound” of U.S. jobs leaving because of NAFTA became as well known then as “You’re fired” is now.

But Perot’s bizarre actions and campaign tactics sunk him as much as anything — he dropped out of the race in July, only to rejoin the campaign again in October. He didn’t air ads, reportedly telling his ad campaign consultant when he heard of the cost, “Why would I spend that when I could go on the Today show for free?” He did spend money on TV time toward the end of the campaign. Perot’s re-entry into the race took votes away from both Clinton and Bush (probably more from Clinton), but in the end it didn’t matter.

Trump’s presence on a GOP debate stage one month from now as he throws flame after flame should make the rest of the field ignore him at their peril. Unchecked, he will solidify the Republican Party’s reputation as one of bizarre conspiracy theories, racist immigration policies, and unworkable policy proposals. He’s already drawing support from fans who blog regularly on a neo-Nazi site called the Daily Stormer (sorry, not giving a link).

But maybe Trump’s antics will wear thin. Maybe he’ll have his own “oops” moment, as former Texas Gov. Rick Perry famously did at a GOP debate during the 2012 race (don’t forget, Perry once led the early polls, too).

Democrats can only watch with glee. Here’s a tweet from Democratic consultant Paul Begala:

“I am a person of faith — and the Donald’s entry into this race can only be attributed to the fact that the good Lord is a Democrat with a sense of humor.”

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