by JOHN FUND – – – –
Donald Trump is all about winning. “If we win Iowa, we run the table,” he told a Des Moines rally on Friday. “It will be over quickly; we win virtually every state in the union.” But how will he handle defeat if the Superman of the Polls suddenly starts losing?
Now there are three respected polls (Monmouth, Des Moines Register, and Fox) that show Trump losing to a surging Ted Cruz in Iowa. Trump could certainly surge back in the next 50 days, but right now, Cruz is on track to win. He is relentlessly using social media data to build what he calls “very much the Obama model – a data-driven, grassroots-driven campaign.” And, he says, “it is a reason our campaign is steadily gathering strength.” Trump is relying on rallies and the endless free TV coverage the media provide him. Trump promises he will bring a flood of new voters into Iowa’s caucuses, dwarfing the traditional total of 125,000 Iowans who vote in a typical presidential-election year — even though the caucus method requires voters to express their preference in public, over two hours, on what will probably be a frigid February evening.
David Brady and Douglas Rivers of the Hoover Institution say the demographics of Trump voters suggest they might not show up at the caucuses after all. Trump supporters are largely older, less wealthy, and less educated. Half of his voters have a high-school diploma, but just 19 percent have a college degree. Just over a third earn less than $50,000, while 11 percent make six figures or more. As pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson pointed out at NRO last week: “There is plenty of data to suggest that Trump voters are less likely to vote than others.”
Indeed, a poll taken by two Iowa academics last month for WHO TV found that among voters who have voted in at least one primary for congressional or state offices since 2006 (a clear sign that someone is likely to attend a caucus), Trump registered 10 to 15 points lower than in the three polls of Iowa Republicans who were in the field around the same time. Dick Morris, the former strategist for Bill Clinton in the 1990s who today is a bitter Clinton critic, is a native New Yorker who has known Trump for 30 years. “He is all about winning, and his big talk about being inevitable is much of his appeal,” he tells me. “If he starts losing, much of the rationale for his candidacy is damaged. If polls then show him a weaker candidate against Hillary in the fall than others, that will matter to primary voters.”
The consultant Frank Luntz convened a focus group last week of Trump supporters — he found that they showed remarkable loyalty to the real-estate mogul and scant interest in other candidates. But a small exception to the pattern emerged: Ted Cruz, who has avoided criticizing Trump in hopes that Trump’s voters will move toward him. Luntz doesn’t see Trump fading before Iowa votes, but his research shows a potential vulnerability if Trump is “shown to have hurt people who have worked for him.” Karl Rove, who was White House political director under George W. Bush, has hinted that those ads are coming. He wrote in the Wall Street Journal on Thursday: Democrats would attack Mr. Trump, a target-rich candidate, with an endless stream of ads. Perhaps they would open with his immortal line from the Cleveland debate — that he had “taken advantage of the laws of this country” in having his companies declare bankruptcy four times. This footage might be followed by compelling testimony from contractors, small-business people, and bondholders whom he stiffed. America has never elected a president with that kind of a dubious business record.
Among people who have done business with Trump are many who feel they have been abused by him. Tama Starr, president of the sign-design company Artkraft Strauss (which lowered the Times Square silver ball that marked New Year’s Eve for decades), has written about what she calls “the ugly art of Trump’s deals.” She and others have told me that it’s common for Trump to pay 80 percent of a project, withhold the remainder of what is owed by claiming dissatisfaction with the work, and then force creditors to either give up on payment or engage in expensive litigation that might cost more than the money owed.
Donald Trump’s big talk, braggadocio, and boldness have carried him far. But “gravity” — the wearing off of his freshness, the cumulative weight of his excesses, and voters taking a closer look at him before they actually cast a ballot — might well bring Trump down to earth, as Cruz recently suggested in a speech to a group of donors. Even Superman became weak and vulnerable when exposed to kryptonite, and in Trump’s case, the equivalent could be exposure to a political environment in which his 91 percent name ID is “trumped” by voters’ decision to finally compare him with other lesser-known candidates. —
John Fund is National Review Online’s national-affairs correspondent.