The Trump surge
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What does it say about politics today that Donald Trump is surging in the polls?
In the wake of an indictment in New York City, in the midst of a rape trial, the former president of the United States is literally surging in the polls, opening up a 36-point lead over his closest competitor, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, according to a CBS News/YouGov poll of 2,372 voters.
Nothing like an indictment for hush money payments to a former mistress and a rape trial to give you a real boost in the polls. Imagine what good news would do. Trump wasn’t far off when he said his base voters wouldn’t care if he committed murder on Fifth Avenue. Or rape at Bergdorf Goodman.
Trump is the choice of 58% of GOP voters compared to just 22% for DeSantis, with the rest of the pack in single digits: 5% for Mike Pence, 4% for former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, 2% for former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and 2% for right-wing radio host Larry Elder. Not only is Trump the choice of the majority in the midst of news as bad as you can get, but an additional 18% said they would at least consider backing Trump, leaving the never-Trumpers a distinct minority in the party.
Part of the problem, frankly, is that DeSantis has proven to be a lousy candidate, and as my grandfather used to say, you can’t beat a horse with no horse. DeSantis’ early numbers suggested some appetite for an alternative, but the alternative in the flesh has proven less appealing.
Still, there is no denying that Trump has proven remarkably resilient and shows every sign of remaining so, aided and abetted by the gutless wonders in the Republican Party who have apparently not lost often and badly enough to stand up to a man who sits down with antisemites.
And Trump has shown every sign that he intends to make it very difficult for anyone to take him on. He has preemptively announced that he intends to skip early debates — and without him, what is a debate between Nikki Haley and Chris Christie and an empty chair?
So this is the challenge to the Republican establishment, to the extent that such a thing still exists.
Will the party simply hand over its nomination to a former president facing what will likely be multiple indictments not to mention civil judgments? Will Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell and the rest fall in line behind the choice of the voters?
Will the establishment do his bidding?
Is there any establishment at all?
The smartest Republicans I know, starting with Frank Luntz, argue that there is room — among voters — for a candidate who goes beyond Trump, who builds on Trump’s accomplishments without carrying his baggage. They recognize, as do many Democrats, that Joe Biden would be vulnerable to such a candidate, that it is only the damaged Donald Trump that the aging Joe Biden can be relied on to defeat.
But right now, all the attention is on Trump, and he sucks all of the oxygen out of the room. Which is how he likes it. And if an indictment and a rape trial aren’t enough to break his stride, it’s not clear what will be. Certainly, for wary Republicans testing the winds, there is ever more reason to lay low.