The PJ Tatler

Stu Rothenberg Becoming a Trump Believer

One of the most knowledgeable and respected political analysts in the country has changed his mind about Donald Trump, now believing the real estate tycoon is for real and is in it for the long haul.

Stuart Rothenberg first thought that “once Iowa Republicans start to see the caucuses as an opportunity to select the next president, rather than an opportunity to express their frustration and anger, they will turn away from Trump (and other outsiders) and toward politically experienced, mainstream contenders.”

But with the recent rise in Trump’s favorable rating, and after speaking with GOP strategists in Iowa, Rothenberg now believes Trump is a viable candidate.

Roll Call:

Trump’s favorable rating jumped from 27 percent in the May Selzer & Company’s Iowa Poll for the Des Moines Register and Bloomberg Politics to 61 percent in the August 23-25 Selzer survey. At the same time, his unfavorable rating dropped from 63 percent to a more manageable 35 percent.

Trump’s positioning improved in other ways, as well. In May, a clear majority of likely Iowa Republican caucus-goers — 58 percent — said they could never support him. That number fell to 29 percent in the most recent Selzer poll.

Remarkably, more likely caucus attendees said they could never vote for Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul (43 percent), New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (48 percent), Ohio Gov. John R. Kasich (40 percent), former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (39 percent), former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (35 percent) and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (35 percent) than said they could never support Trump for president.

Trump’s image in Iowa has improved at the same time his flaws, shortcomings and liabilities have become more apparent. For now, however, many voters just don’t seem to care. The Trump persona is compelling.

A friend of mine who has spent many years in politics recently emailed me from a Florida airport after sitting next to two women who were lifelong Democrats but intended to vote for Trump.

“They think someone needs to fundamentally change the political culture. They believe his policies are less important than his no-bullshit posture. Amazing,” he wrote.

Veteran Republican strategists involved in the GOP race (and working for other candidates) now tell me they believe Trump is in the race for the long haul and can and will win delegates, starting in Iowa, given that contests before March 15 are required to award delegates on the basis of proportional representation.

Trump’s early strength among the party’s most conservative and frustrated voters could help him amass a substantial number of delegates in the South (which has many early March contests).

So, I can no longer simply dismiss Trump (and the other “non-politicians”) as evidence of a Republican temper tantrum that will automatically fade into oblivion. Indeed, GOP insiders are worrying that Trump could well earn himself a speaking slot at the party’s convention, adding to the party’s general election challenges.

The significance of Rothenberg’s about-face is that most pollsters and non-GOP analysts are still saying Trump will flame out, melt down, or otherwise implode due to his boorish, insulting manner. But Rothenberg has discovered that Trumpbots simply don’t care what the candidate says, even if it’s offensive, bigoted, or factually incorrect. This contributes to his belief that Trump’s numbers are for real and will translate into delegates once the voting begins in Iowa.

Rothenberg also gives a thumbnail sketch of several candidates and where they stand at this point in the race. Read the whole analysis in Roll Call.