That Donald Trump leads national polls in the Republican race for president is interesting – but hardly a predictor of the outcome of the election. In fact, based on the recent history of presidential elections it’s not likely that Trump will be the Republican nominee.
In the last presidential election without an incumbent, front-runners in both major parties emerged – yet neither was nominated by their party. In 2007, the year leading up to that election – Democratic candidate for president Hillary Clinton had a strong lead in the polls – as did Republican candidate Rudy Giuliani.
By March 2007 – despite a large field of candidates – Giuliani was favored by 44 percent of likely Republican voters, according to a USA Today/Gallop poll. John McCain was second in that poll with 20 percent. A month later Giuliani was polling near the magical 50 percent mark, receiving the nod by 47 percent of Republicans polled by CBS. From that point forward, Giuliani led almost every major poll leading up to the Iowa Caucuses.
But then a funny thing happened: The people in the states started voting. Social conservative Mike Huckabee struck a chord with Iowa Caucusgoers on Jan. 3, 2008, and placed first with 34 percent of the vote. The next day national polls quickly shifted with Huckabee suddenly out front in USA Today’s poll of Republican voters with 25 percent followed by Giuliani with 20 percent, McCain with 19 percent , and Fred Thompson with 12 percent.
The political ground shifted again just five days later when John McCain won the New Hampshire primary with 37 percent of the vote followed by Mitt Romney with 32 percent, Huckabee with 11 percent, Giuliani with 8 percent, Ron Paul with 7 percent, and Fred Thompson with a little more than 1 percent. From that point forward, John McCain took the lead in the national polls and kept that lead all the way to the Republican National Convention where he formally accepted the Republican nomination for president.
Compare that history with the latest CNN poll, which finds that Trump polls nationally at 24 percent. Rather than serve as an indicator of who will win the Republican nomination for president, the national polls actually reveal that the current front-runner is not in a particularly strong position with five months to go before the Iowa Caucuses. In 2008 Giuliani was in a far stronger position polling nationally at 47 percent and yet he failed to win the Republican nomination.
While it’s true that Trump has a slight lead in the latest poll of Iowa voters, it appears his support is driven almost entirely by his stand on immigration. But what happens when the social conservative Iowa voters start to truly examine Trump’s record of supporting the Obama stimulus plan, of shifting jobs to China and India for his clothing line, of supporting many Democrats – including Hillary Clinton – not to mention that he is pro-choice? And what if someone reveals that Trump has actually hired some of the illegal immigrants he rails against on a daily basis? Even the accusation could be fatal to his campaign. It is easy to see how the Trump campaign could come off the tracks in Iowa.
Granted, Trump doesn’t have to win Iowa to win the nomination. After all, in 2008 John McCain finished third in Iowa. But the difference is that Trump is running an angry campaign based almost entirely on the belief that he is smarter, tougher, and more qualified to be president than anyone else on the planet – because he says so. If Trump fails to win Iowa it’s entirely possible that his support will evaporate overnight as people decide, “I never really like that guy.”
As we enter the real campaign cycle – and voters start to pay attention – and thoughtfully analyze, scrutinize and question the candidates for president – name identification and bold statements won’t be enough. It’s under the microscope of voter scrutiny that Trump’s real weakness could do him in. He seems to think that he can just pick up the telephone to bully world leaders in to doing whatever he wants. Apparently “The Donald” is unaware that heads of state with standing armies tend to have big huge egos, too, and that they are unlikely to respond favorably to Trump’s “because I say so” approach to all things government.
Although it’s impressive that Mr. Trump has quickly risen to the top of national polls, that’s more likely the result of voter discontent with Washington, D.C., than a reflection of deep-rooted support for him. He has simply become the mouthpiece for voter dissatisfaction with government.
Despite the current poll results, Trump is a long way from winning the Republican nomination. Moreover, based on prior presidential election history it’s more likely than not that Trump will not head the Republican ticket in 2016.
Jeff Kottkamp was Florida’s 17th lieutenant governor and had three terms in the Florida House of Representatives. He is president of Jeff Kottkamp PA. Column courtesy of Context Florida.