Have we Seen Peak Trump?

Trump remains in the lead, but he has been steadily falling over the month of September. (And this triggers, as these things do, musings about institutions and our party system).

Trump EscalatorI was looking at the polling for the GOP field yesterday and noted that while Donald Trump remains the clear front runner that the curve tracking his support has taken a decided turn downward.

Here is Pollster’s latest composite of all the polling of the GOP field:

image

The overall dynamics of the race remain more or less the same:  a clear anti-politician bloc (Trump, Carson, and Fiorina) which sums to 52.2% of support with Trump in the lead (but falling) and Carson and Fiorina currently enjoying surges.

Now, I have gone on the record stating that I do not think that Trump will get the nomination (and I have a similar view about both Carson and Fiorina, for similar reasons—especially Carson), so this does not surprise me (although I wholly recognize what many observers seem loath to admit: we are still very early in this process).  And yes: a downward trend does not have to continue downward (but the reversal is pretty dramatic and does indicate some Trump fatigue and willingness for voters to look elsewhere in the field).  A key way, by the way, for the Trump curve to go significantly upward would be if one of the other anti-politicians candidates were to drop out.

However, as I have noted elsewhere, if Trump is, in fact, the new face of the GOP his trajectory should be continuing upward, but for roughly three weeks now this has not been the case.  That there is somewhere around 25% of that base that finds Trump appealing does not surprise me—but that is not enough to win the nomination.  And, further, I don’t think that this support is an unique as some are making it out to be (see, e.g., past support for such figures at Pat Robertson, Pat Buchanan, and Herman Cain, among others).

Indeed, the decline of Trump and the rise of both Carson and Fiorina fit what I have been arguing for a while now:  there is a split in the party at the moment between those looking for an anti-politician and those who are willing to support a politically experienced candidate.  I remain of the view that as we approach an actual decision that voters will move toward the more traditional types of candidates.  It is simply easier to think of handing over the keys to an utter novice months before votes are cast than it does when the ballot is nigh.

Don’t get me wrong:  I think that there is a serious segment of the GOP electorate that is prone to prefer an anti-politician and I think that faction of the party aligns, more or less, with Tea Party voters (more research on this is needed).  It is clear that there is an important faction of the party that does not take governing seriously and we are seeing this in the House of Representatives at the moment (and, indeed, have been seeing it for years now).  So yes, this faction is real and significant.  The question is:  how big is it?  I don’t think, once the field is winnowed, that it is big enough to nominate a presidential candidate.   It worth noting that the Tea Party faction in the House is not a majority of the caucus, but is simply a sizable chunk.

In some ways I am increasingly convinced that the mainline GOP and the Tea Party represent what could be two different, but allied, political parties and it is only our nomination system for congressional candidates  coupled with the way we elect Congress (single seat districts) that keep them under the same party label (with the commensurate difficulties that creates for both sides).  Since the process of electing the legislature is typically the factor that most drives party system behavior we end up with a two party system rather than a multi-party one.

Of course, our highly idiosyncratic method for electing our chief executive (the electoral college) also incentivizes two parties (despite what the Framers thought would be the case—see here and here).  However, the similarly idiosyncratic way we nominate presidential candidates also helps reveal intra-party factions in a way nowhere else seen in our system in such an obvious fashion.  The one advantage of this process (which is, in my opinion, deeply flawed in many ways) is that it does allow for factions of American politics to emerge to the national stage (whether it be Bernie Sander’s progressivism or Trumps nativism) in a fashion congressional elections do not really demonstrate.  It allows voters a chance, at least more than normal, to vote sincere preferences and gives us a closer idea of what a multi-party US system might look like (and yes, under different electoral rules we would have a multi-party system).

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. The picture looks like slightly different if you look at the RealClearPolitics charts, principally because RCP doesn’t include many of the online and partisan polls that Pollster throws into its calculations. There, you can see that while Trump has dropped over the past couple weeks, it’s not an egregious dip. Additionally, he’s dropped in the polls before only to recover. Finally, I think the fact that he has essentially unlimited resources and that, as of yet, there still isn’t a credible alternative to him (Carson and Fiorina are not credible alternatives) suggests that this could last a bit longer and that he could remain a top contender well into the early primary season.

    I tend to think we’ll have Donald Trump to kick around for some time to come.

  2. grumpy realist says:

    We’re starting to see the “Carly Fiorina–Be vewwy vewwy scared!” stories so I think you’re right.

    It’s still all politics as entertainment.

  3. @Doug Mataconis:

    I tend to think we’ll have Donald Trump to kick around for some time to come.

    Well, sure–but that really isn’t the question I am asking. I expect him to persist, but I also think we may have seen his peak.

    And actually, if you look at RCP the trend is the same (although the scale of the two charts does create differing visual impact).

  4. @grumpy realist:

    It’s still all politics as entertainment.

    Indeed.

  5. @Steven L. Taylor:

    Perhaps we’ve seen the peak, but it’s probable the peak was artificially high to begin with. If he’s still at or above 20% nationally heading into the voting in February, he’ll still be quite a force to contend with if those poll numbers translate into votes.

  6. @Doug Mataconis: If he is at 20% in February that will be significant, yes. But it also depends on what the rest of the field looks like at that point in time (which has largely been my point all along). There will not be 15 candidates on the ballot in NH and SC (or IA for that matter).

    Plus: once we hit state level contests the national polling becomes less helpful.

  7. Tillman says:

    Trump’s peak has always seemed more like a plateau to me as long as we’re talking geography metaphors. He came so strong out the gate, if he was going to have more support it would’ve materialized by now.

    Also Doug accidentally downvoted your first post because of this wretched smartphone.

  8. C. Clavin says:

    Trump has been selling himself as the outsider and indeed that is the secret of his appeal to the Tea Baggers. But now he has offered up a tax reform plan that is pure voo-doo economics…the preferred economic theory of the party establishment. Does this hurt him or help him? Do the Tea Baggers believe in the trickle down? Do they even understand what the word, economics, means? We shall see.

  9. Todd says:

    Who is the alternative? The money people don’t want one of the “crazies”, and the crazies (aka the base) can’t stomach anyone who’s acceptable to the money people. Fiorina is saying enough borderline crazy things lately that she may catch on. But if she goes too far, she doesn’t have enough of her own money to support a Presidential campaign … ditto Carson. Rubio may seem like he’s in a decent position now, but the same people who don’t want Bush will eventually come to feel the same about Rubio once he gets his turn at the front and receives more scrutiny. Although Trump’s ceiling quite possibly is around 30%, it’s not inconceivable that he could still end up being the last man standing in a very divided party.

  10. C. Clavin says:

    Oh I forgot…I did see that Mr. Duck from Duck Dynasty…infamous homophobe and believer that atheism means there is no right and wrong*…is now supporting Trump over Jindal.
    Peak Trump? Not as far as Mr. Duck is concerned.

    *

    “I’ll make a bet with you. Two guys break into an atheist’s home. He has a little atheist wife and two little atheist daughters. Two guys break into his home and tie him up in a chair and gag him. And then they take his two daughters in front of him and rape both of them and then shoot them and they take his wife and then decapitate her head off in front of him. And then they can look at him and say, ‘Isn’t it great that I don’t have to worry about being judged? Isn’t it great that there’s nothing wrong with this? There’s no right or wrong, now is it dude?’”
    “Then you take a sharp knife and take his manhood and hold it in front of him and say, ‘Wouldn’t it be something if this [sic] was something wrong with this? But you’re the one who says there is no God, there’s no right, there’s no wrong, so we’re just having fun. We’re sick in the head, have a nice day.’”

  11. Slugger says:

    Warning: totally unscientific observation ahead.
    I was talking to a distant relative who lives in the rural Midwest. In his area, there are lots of Trump supporters especially among the young adults. They see themselves as beset by troubles, and Trump’s slogans about taking America back, about America being in a steep decline, and about being overrun by illegals resonate with them. Objectively, they are right to be concerned. Populations in rural Illinois and Iowa are declining. Farm work with the exception of the kind of marginal stuff that only an illegal will do is totally mechanized. The Midwest industrial base is shrinking with Caterpillar announcing layoffs and Cat’s building project for a new headquarters in Peoria on hold.
    Although about eighty percent of us live in large urban centers, We do not see them as the real America. Last time that I was in San Francisco, it was buzzing with economic growth; yet it remains derided as a bastion of latte sipping, liberal, hipsters who are probably gay.
    Trump has managed to become the voice of these people at the margins of the American economy. It seems unlikely to me that these people would ever vote for Hillary. Voting for one of the mainline corporate Republicans like JEB is only a bit less distasteful.

  12. James Joyner says:

    I am increasingly convinced that the mainline GOP and the Tea Party represent what could be two different, but allied, political parties and it is only our nomination system for congressional candidates coupled with the way we elect Congress (single seat districts) that keep them under the same party label (with the commensurate difficulties that creates for both sides).

    This is, I think, the key point. Arguably, it’s a separate post topic.

    We’re going through something I’ve never seen before. We may be on the verge of something like what happened to the Democrats starting with the emergence of the Dixiecrats and that really took more than thirty years to fully unfold.

  13. cian says:

    Last time that I was in San Francisco, it was buzzing with economic growth; yet it remains derided as a bastion of latte sipping, liberal, hipsters who are probably gay.

    But only by those who already hate and deride everything that isn’t like them. They hate immigrants more than poverty, blacks more than Obamacare; gays more than deficits; women more than rapists, and Obama more than their own best interests. Trump, and the rest will screw them over just as they always have, but at least they get to hear powerful people echo their own twisted, fetid fears and that’s more than enough.

  14. Scott says:

    @James Joyner:

    emergence of the Dixiecrats and that really took more than thirty years to fully unfold

    Interesting you say this, because those same Dixiecrats are, by and large, the right wing radical Tea Party. This virulent strain of Americans have been with us since the founding of the country.

  15. grumpy realist says:

    @C. Clavin: Yes, well, he’s not very intelligent, is he?

    I ran into a politician’s wife from Nebraska who asked me (seriously, not snarkily) whether Buddhism was a real religion because “they didn’t have a god.”

    We’re not talking about highly intelligent people here. Anything that fits inside their happy little four corners of their world is fine and dandy complete with the Goodies and the Baddies. The fact that other parts of humanity may have different belief systems just blows their little socks off. And because they can’t understand it, it’s gotta be labeled as “evil.”

  16. C. Clavin says:

    @Slugger:
    @ SLT
    @James Joyner:

    They see themselves as beset by troubles, and Trump’s slogans about taking America back, about America being in a steep decline, and about being overrun by illegals resonate with them.

    Actually there is a much better analogy than the Dixiecrats…and it takes into account the dis-affected that Slugger mentions…
    http://www.newsweek.com/donald-trump-fascist-354690

    In the 19th century, this penchant for industrial protectionism and mercantilism became guild socialism, which mutated later into fascism and then into Nazism. You can read Mises to find out more on how this works.
    What’s distinct about Trumpism, and the tradition of thought it represents, is that it is not leftist in its cultural and political outlook (see how he is praised for rejecting “political correctness”), and yet it is still totalitarian in the sense that it seeks total control of society and economy and demands no limits on state power.

  17. Tillman says:

    @Todd: Accidentally downvoted you as well. Dear Lord in heaven…

    Rubio may seem like he’s in a decent position now, but the same people who don’t want Bush will eventually come to feel the same about Rubio once he gets his turn at the front and receives more scrutiny.

    Rubio just has to make less mistakes than Bush, and he’s doing well at that as Jeb continues to show, as the days fly by, that he’s just the perfect guy to take the Republican party into the ditch.

    Carson and Fiorina are unlike Trump in that they’re trying to be polemic but sensible. Well, Fiorina is I imagine, I can’t read Carson. They are hitting snags when it comes to scrutiny that Trump has no issue with because he’s not trying to be that sensible. Fiorina’s foundation is built on lies* (always a phrasing I enjoy using), and Carson can’t get through a softball interview without being incapable of answering simple questions. If your campaign manager is pulling you out of an interview, it’s not because the press is embarrassing itself.

    Now if Rubio starts claiming black people just want free stuff (implication anyway), I’ll reconsider my bet.

    * Her lies are anchorable, such as the videos over Planned Parenthood. Trump’s lies are rhetorical, like thinking Mexicans are criminals and rapists.

  18. michael reynolds says:

    The problem with the Dixiecrat analogy is that the Democrats minus the Dixiecrats were still a viable party everywhere but the south – New York, New England, parts of the Midwest. But try to name a single state the GOP minus the Tea Party can carry in a general election. Alaska?

    This is the age of income inequality – the Money GOP has nothing to sell to the public. The last time they ran things we had the Great Recession.

    If the split were to happen it’d be the crazies who survived – there will always be a constituency for racism and nativism, humans being what they are. The Money GOP would control Goldman Sachs and nothing else.

    No this is the true tiger-riding experience: it was fun through the last couple of decades but the dismount is coming, and the dismount’s a bitch.

  19. humanoid.panda says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Finally, I think the fact that he has essentially unlimited resources and that, as of yet, there still isn’t a credible alternative to him (Carson and Fiorina are not credible alternatives) suggests that this could last a bit longer and that he could remain a top contender well into the early primary season.

    This is a major, and I think erroneous assumption. Trump has money for sure, so far, he put nearly none of it into his campaign, and I don’t think he will ever will.

  20. humanoid.panda says:

    I said it before and will say it again: the problem for Trump is that, having started at rhetorical 11, he has no new things to say, and when he repeats himself, he ends up blunting the sense of excitetement and innovation that got him to where he is at the polls. At some point, the 20th time when he tells he will build a YUUUGE wall, or the 25th time he calls someone a loser, or the 100th time in which he talks how he is so popular will stop being news- and his campaign will die. His big chance to turn things around was with his tax plan, if he had to guts to call for tax hikes and then use the rage of the other candidates to create scandal and controversy. He blew it. Now, the only play left for him is to go full racist re: African Americans, and I don’t think he has that in him.

  21. Tyrell says:

    Standings will continue to be in a state of flux, with some surprises. No one is a strong favlrite, no one can be counted out. The Boehner situation will spread the parameters and scenarios. Some may be biding their time, waiting on others to fall. Do not put all the money on one horse. Economic events may bring big surprises. The big determinate could be a bear. Stay alert and look below the surface.

  22. @James Joyner: @michael reynolds: The interesting thing about the Dixiecrat comparison is that a lot of the Dixiecrats eventually became Republicans–i.e., for various reasons it was possible to go elsewhere.

    The current situation means there is nowhere for the Tea Party to go nor for the mainline GOP to go. They are largely stuck with one another.

  23. @Tyrell:

    no one can be counted out.

    Sure they can: Santorum, Gilmore, Jindal, Paul, Huckabee, Graham, and Pataki can be discounted now.

    I have sincere doubts, for varying reasons, about Christie, and Cruz (and Kasich probably belongs here as well).

    If we take those out we get:

    Mainline possibilities: Bush, Rubio

    Anti-pols: Trump, Carson, and Fiorina.

    I think that the mainline contest will be Bush v. Rubio (with maybe Kasich)

    I think that Carson is not sustainable even to IA.

    Trump is audacious enough to stick around for quite a while.

    Fiorina can play the outsider card while at least having run for office before (and being female helps), so she stays in for a while.

  24. grumpy realist says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I wonder if Cruz will get backhand support from other republicans simply because they’re so sick of him in his present position. It would be the ultimate Peter Principle move for him.

    (I still think we had the ultimate Peter Principle move EVAH when Dubya got elected in 2000)

  25. James Joyner says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: While I tend to agree with you as to who the serious candidates are, the situation is just incredibly fluid. Until the most recent debate, Fiorina was an afterthought in the low single digits. She didn’t even qualify for the first debate. Now she’s in 3rd place in the national aggregate and in 2nd place in some polls.

    Hell, two months ago Bush was leading the whole pack

  26. @James Joyner: Yes, but Fiorin’a meteoric rise was from low single digits to around 11 in the RCP average and less than 9 in the numbers I cited above. The fragmentation in the field means that relatively small moves seem more dramatic than they are.

    And the fluidity is a function of how far away from the vote we are.

    If, as I posit, there is basically a pol v. anti-pol vote the issue becomes where it coalesces, yes?

    It occurred to me earlier that a certain former student would be right about one thing here: it is a zero-sum game 😉

  27. @Steven L. Taylor:

    but Fiorin’a meteoric rise was from low single digits to around 11 in the RCP average and less than 9 in the numbers I cited above.

    I forgot to say: so, is it that case that Fiorina is actually radically closer to the nomination now than when she was at the kid’s table, or is it that we are overemphasizing the horse race aspect of the whole thing (i.e., who is in first, second, etc.)?

  28. Tillman says:

    @humanoid.panda: Your points are taken, but I disagree that Trump’s candidacy relies exclusively on shock value. The start of it certainly did, but he’s kept it up in the months since through improvisation. I don’t think he can’t blunt his own excitement when his competition continues to be uninspiring and conventional. This conventionality is why I keep employing the “crack the psychopath shell” imagery for Rubio, but honestly any Republican candidate could pull it off with the right opportunity.

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    And the fluidity is a function of how far away from the vote we are.

    In other words, the real poll (the primaries) hasn’t happened yet. Can anyone in this moment believe we’re still four months from definitive results?

  29. ptfe says:

    @Tyrell: Do you work at a fortune cookie company?

  30. James Joyner says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Yes, it’s very hard to tell right now given how different this cycle has been from past ones. This far out, the horse race and the fundamentals seem at terrific odds. I simply can’t see Trump, much less Carson or Fiorina, sustaining themselves. But, yes, it ultimately should come down to the winner of the “outsider” delegation and one of the “conventional” candidates, just as it has been “religious conservatives” vice “conventional Republicans” in recent runs.

    Of recent open cycles, only George W. Bush in 2000 was the odds-on favorite from the outset. McCain in 2008 and Romney in 2012 both looked really bad in the early going. 1996 was a long time ago, indeed, and even there I don’t recall Dole being that popular early. 1988 was more than a quarter century ago and, while Bush Sr. was the odds-on choice, it was a reluctant one.

  31. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @C. Clavin:

    and yet it is still totalitarian in the sense that it seeks total control of society and economy and demands no limits on state power.

    As if only leftist philosophies can demand no limits on state power (and I do realize you are not holding that as true).

    To me, these questions keep coming back not to ideology, but back to basic morality and, maybe more importantly, the willingness of the rulers to put the interests of all the citizens ahead of, or at least on par with, the interests of those who make the decisions. This factor may well explain the difference between, for example, the authoritarian government experiences of the people in North and South Korea, respectively.

  32. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Tillman:

    I can’t read Carson.

    Carson’s approach seems to me to be fashioned on the teachings of Dr. James Kennedy, late of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, and his discipleship program, Evangelism Explosion, which taught would be disciples to shape the “presentation of the truth” to match the, um…well, marketing biases or needs, if truth be told, of the audience of the moment.

    At least, that what I see in Carson, and what I understood from Evangelism Explosion.

  33. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: As I looked at the numbers from one commentary or another of the numbers, I saw the following approximation–any combination of Trump, Carson, Fiorina, Rubio, and Bush controls roughly 70% of the selectorate that represents the current polling cohort. Also eliminating eitherBush or Rubio creates a 5-9% decline in the basic numbers. (TCF=about half, R adds ~11% and Bush~8%.)

    Two questions come to mind: First, as you have noted, how many people will actually vote for TC or F (I mean, really?!?)? How many of these people would be willing to vote for TC or F twice (remembering that the GOP rules may not require state conventions to treat the primary or caucus as anything other than advisory)?

    Although it looks uncharted at the moment, I’m not so sure it is. I’ll withhold judgement on that until I’ve seen Trump and co. place in the top three in a couple o’ three primaries and I see Trump announce who will be running Trump, Inc. for the next 5-9 years.

  34. J-Dub says:

    @C. Clavin: It seems to me that the reverse argument is the scarier scenario, i.e. the only thing keeping a Christian from raping and murdering your family is a book. Without said book, they have no humanity, no morality, no ethics. I’m an Atheist because kindness is its own reward. I require no promise of an afterlife, unlike the duck killer apparently.

  35. PJ says:

    Peak Trump is a lie.

    There will always be something new and stupid/racist/etc that he can pull out of his a**.

    Trump will only have to dig a bit deeper each time.

  36. J-Dub says:

    @PJ:

    he can pull out of his a**.

    Trump will only have to dig a bit deeper each time.

    Nice visual, thanks.

  37. PJ says:

    @J-Dub:

    Nice visual, thanks.

    I meant act, anything else is in your mind!

  38. Grumpy Realist says:

    By the way, I love the term “anti-politician”

    Reminds me of the term “anti-Pope” used in history of the Catholic Church.

  39. Tyrell says:

    @James Joyner: I have been a loyal member of the Southern Democrat(ic) party since before I could vote. I helped in the campaigns of Robert Kennedy, Hubert H. Humphrey, George McGovern (I ended up voting for Nixon when the McGovern campaign was sabotaged by radical marxists and went down the drain). Most of our town and county is still heavily Democrat at the local level. A few Republicans, but not very active. We remember with pride: Johnson, Fulbright, Russell, Connally, Hollings, Ervin, Nunn, Russell Long, Rayburn, Mills.
    The southern Democrats are a viable alternative to the Republican Party turmoil and wild west show.

  40. michael reynolds says:

    @James Joyner:

    What I’m taking from these early polls is how weak the designated front runners are, Jeb, Walker, Hillary, there’s not a thoroughbred in that barn. Also I’m struck at how little Kasich has gotten going.

  41. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @michael reynolds: Kasich is also a puzzle to me. If anyone is a viable “not-Jeb!,” it’s Kasich.

  42. wr says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’rant cracker: Kasich is boring. He’s like Mike Pence but with a few more brain cells and without the GI Joe hairdo. He’s not evil or crazy or stupid, but who could ever summon up any passion for him?

  43. Liberal Capitalist says:

    Much like his hair, we will never understand peak Trump.

    Some things will always be a matter of faith.

  44. gVOR08 says:

    @wr:

    He’s (Kasich’s) not evil or crazy or stupid

    He’s a big ALEC guy, but two out of three is outstanding on the GOP side.

  45. Tillman says:

    @Tillman:

    Now if Rubio starts claiming black people just want free stuff (implication anyway), I’ll reconsider my bet.

    That’s…not precisely what he’s said. In fact, it sounds very different for a Republican.

  46. J-Dub says:

    @grumpy realist:

    We’re starting to see the “Carly Fiorina–Be vewwy vewwy scared!” stories so I think you’re right.

    I surprised that the dying fetus in her video didn’t have glowing red eyes.