The professionals aren’t necessarily taking him seriously, but they are starting to take him into consideration:
I talked with Republican wise men last week — sober establishment strategists who have seen many presidential campaigns come and go — to ask them how long the improbable popularity of Donald Trump can last. Reassure me, I said: He can’t actually win, right?
Their answers surprised me.
“It’s not inconceivable,” Vin Weber, a former congressman (and Jeb Bush supporter) told me. “It doesn’t look as if he’s going to implode any time soon…. It’s hard for me to say this, but he actually seems to be getting better as a candidate.”
“Trump has put himself on the short list of five or six names who could win the nomination,” said another GOP operative who insisted on anonymity because he’s working for one of those other candidates. “It’s not impossible that he could win.”
Until a few weeks ago, the conventional wisdom held that Trump was merely a summer fling for angry voters, a protest candidate whose insults and braggadocio would soon impose a ceiling on his support. But recent polls suggest that Trump has raised that ceiling.
He’s leading almost every horse race poll — although at this stage, those numbers are utterly unreliable as predictors of real voter behavior. (At this point in 2011, the polls were led by Texas Gov. Rick Perry; in 2007, by former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.)
More telling are polls that measure whether Trump has made himself acceptable to Republicans.
A Quinnipiac University poll last month found that 30% of GOP voters had an unfavorable view of Trump — worse than most other candidates but a big improvement from the 52% that Trump scored in May.
In Iowa, where the first GOP contest is held, the percentage of likely Republican caucus-goers who say they could never vote for Trump has fallen from 58% in May to 29%, according to a Des Moines Register-Bloomberg News poll.
It’s still unlikely; the early polls are meaningless. But that being said, none of the other Republican candidates look very impressive, and the images of the European invasion crisis are only going to magnify his advantage on the immigration issue.
And on the Democratic side, the picture is looking even more chaotic and unsettled. I wouldn’t be surprised if Hillary suddenly develops health issues that force her to end her campaign. Obama has clearly indicated that he’s not going to cover for her; he’s not going to sink her either, as he could, but he doesn’t appear to have any intention of helping her out.