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Commentary: Trump's Poor Standing In N.H. Poll Shocks The GOP

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Portland, Maine, on Monday. (Evan Vucci/AP)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Portland, Maine, on Monday. (Evan Vucci/AP)
This article is more than 4 years old.

Maybe the voters of New Hampshire are trying to do an intervention with Donald Trump. In a new WBUR poll, they seem to be telling him: “You are addicted to publicity, but there is such a thing as bad publicity. You have been publicizing your failings as a presidential candidate.”

The poll of New Hampshire voters has sent shock waves through the Republican Party. It was shocking because Trump was 15 points behind Hillary Clinton — after being in a virtual tie with her in a May poll. And probably more disturbing to the GOP establishment, Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte now trails her Democratic opponent, Gov. Maggie Hassan, by 10 points. In previous polls they were very close.

Other polls showed Clinton surging ahead in other swing states — beating Trump by 11 in Pennsylvania, and by 9 in Michigan.

This seismic shift in swing states reflects the national picture. Clinton beats Trump by 10 points in a new Fox poll.

Following the two party's national conventions, Clinton improved her standing with all demographic groups, and Trump dropped with all of them. Indeed, his numbers now with Hispanics, blacks, women, those under-30 and college-educated are so bad in comparison with past Republican presidential nominees that he seems headed for a landslide loss.

Republican “leaders” who tepidly supported Trump — including Ayotte, who tried to straddle by saying she supported Trump but didn’t endorse him -- realize that these polls foreshadow something far worse than a humiliating Trump loss. He could drag down the GOP ticket so the party loses not just control of the U.S. Senate, but possibly even the House of Representatives.

Things could change, of course. Clinton seems unlikely to make a catastrophic gaffe because she keeps her media interviews to a minimum. She hasn’t had a news conference in ages. And while the idea of Trump “pivoting” to a smarter general election strategy seems rather naïve now — given that he can’t help but lash out at anyone who criticizes him — it’s possible that he could “act” presidential by … saying nothing. True, that seems unlikely; he loves to speak to his fans at rallies and he can’t resist the chance to be on television. But, theoretically (and, by the way, he doesn’t seem to grasp the idea of speaking theoretically — he prefers to just make assertions, not offer what we call reasoning), he could change. But will he? Of course not.

Meanwhile, Ayotte and many GOP candidates are trapped in a sticky quandary of a thorny dilemma. They can’t effectively distance themselves from Trump without renouncing him. Yet if they repudiate him, they will lose the support of many Trump fans who worship him. If Ayotte is already 10 points behind her opponent, how can she afford to alienate some of her supporters? On the other hand, if she is seen as “weak” (which is how Trump described her) and/or a Trump enabler, how does she appeal to undecided, independent voters who view Trump as a danger to the republic? Indeed, former New Hampshire Sen. Gordon Humphrey, a very conservative Republican, called Trump a “sociopath, without a conscience or feelings of guilt, shame or remorse," and said he is "pathologically insecure." Yes, he’s talking about the candidate who Ayotte supports, but cannot endorse.

There is no easy out for Ayotte and other GOP “leaders.” That’s why some speculate (fantasize) about the possibility of Trump being talked into quitting the race. But that doesn’t seem realistic. If he’s such a narcissistic, delusional sociopath that he should be pressured to quit, wouldn’t he be too much of a narcissistic, delusional sociopath to agree to give up?

Reince Priebus, chair of the Republican National Committee, was reportedly apoplectic when Trump gratuitously said in a recent interview that he wouldn’t endorse House Speaker Paul Ryan in his GOP primary contest. Ryan, too, must have been incensed after having been persuaded by Priebus and others to endorse Trump earlier. He admitted his frustration with Trump in a radio interview on Thursday.

But are Ryan and Priebus to be pitied for having been trumped by Trump? Not really. They chose to believe what they wanted to believe — despite Trump making clear for almost a year that he had to be true to his own delusions. And now they are paying the price for wishful thinking. It’s strange. Politicians are supposed to be shrewd, not naïve. But in the year of Trump, everything seems topsy-turvy.

The New York Times has compiled a list of “250 people, places and things” that Trump has insulted on Twitter. If Trump loses in a landslide, GOP “leaders” who are not on that list will wish they had made the cut. It would mean they’re less culpable for the destruction of their party.

Related:

Todd Domke Twitter Republican Political Analyst
Todd Domke is a Republican political analyst for WBUR.

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