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Trump rides early surge

BY BRENT GRIFFITHS | JULY 28, 2015 5:00 AM

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He is brash and full of bravado. He does not care if you critique his language or those who become the targets of his ire. Iowa political watchers say they have never seen a candidate like real-estate magnate Donald Trump.

But behind the rise of the former “Apprentice” host is something as traditional as RAGBRAI and a hot humid summer.

“There is always somebody who is tapping into the anger and alienation that voters feel,” said David Yepsen, who covered nine caucus campaigns for the Des Moines Register, the last being in 2008.

“Anger does not elect presidents, and angry candidates do not tend to do very well.”

The quadrennial Iowa caucuses have seen their share of summer surges only to watch support and the temperature drop as the caucuses near.

David Redlawsk, a former University of Iowa professor who wrote a book on the caucuses, said journalists also have played a major role in Trump’s rise.

“Trump is in some ways unique,” Redlawsk said. “What created Donald Trump is the media fascination tied to the fact the guy is incredibly rich and willing to say anything.”  

Trump’s wealth, stature, and no-apologies persona might mean he may encounter a different ending than past presidental hopefuls who surged in tracking polls before seeing their numbers crater as supporters flocked elsewhere.

As the common refrain goes, most campaigns die out because a candidate runs out of money. Trump, based his estimation of his net worth, has 10 billion reasons that running out of funds is a not concern.

Trump is also running in an era in which dark money and Super PACs mean efforts outside of official campaigns can raise as much, if not significantly more, money than a candidate ever could. Super PACs, thanks to a pair of court rulings, do not have contribution limits — unlike a traditional campaign. While they must not coordinate directly with the campaign, this definition has semi-truck-size loopholes.  

Combine Trump’s wealth, with name recognition that rivals only former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and the Donald’s advantages seem numerous.

One final wrinkle: Trump has no filter.

He questioned Sen. John McCain’s war-hero status, announced South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham’s private cell-phone number on live TV, and on July 25 said numerous elements of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s state were a “disaster.”

Such musings are necessary, Trump has said, because the United States is on such a dire path that such a tone is necessary.

Such comments, said one Iowa political watcher, might not bother Trump’s base, who look to Trump as the embodiment of their angst.

“There is a sentiment among a segment of the electorate that is extremely frustrated with what has happened in Washington,” said Andrew Green, a professor at Central College in Pella, Iowa. “For those folks really frustrated with the stasis in Washington, he really is a fresh voice.”

In most cases, those instances lead network news coverage and headlines in the days following Trump’s comments.

Should his advantages fail him, Trump will find many fellow GOP hopefuls who had their moment of attention only to see it falter later. And as the past two Republican caucuses illustrate, it may pay to begin in the back with smaller crowds away from the crush of media attention.

At one point during the last Iowa caucus cycle, in 2012, at least five candidates were the frontrunner, according to the Real Clear Politics polling average.

For former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, winner of the 2012 caucuses, support was essentially nothing at this point four years ago. Santorum was stuck in the margin of error of the Des Moines Register’s first poll conducted in June 2011. Amongst the 400 likely Republican caucus-goers, only 4 percent said they would support the senator.  With a 4.9 percentage-point margin of error, this meant that Santorum’s support could range from as high as 8.9 percent to as low as zero.

Turn the calendar back eight years earlier, and eventual caucus winner Mike Huckabee was nowhere near the so-called frontrunner position.

Based on the same polling averages, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani were running first and second, respectively. On caucus night, Giuliani finished in sixth place, while Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, surpassed Romney. Huckabee had been outside the top three in Iowa for most of the campaign.

In the end, Yepsen said, he saw party activists, who are the main audience for the caucuses, ask a simple question: Do I see this candidate in the Oval Office with his or her finger on the trigger?”


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