Today Donald Trump, reflecting his real neo-fascist colors, remarked on Vladimir Putin in an exchange with Joe Scarborough. Asked whether he liked the praise from the Russian tyrant, Trump replied: “Sure, when people call you ‘brilliant’ it’s always good. Especially when the person heads up Russia.” The conversation went on from there:
JS: Well, I mean, it’s also a person who kills journalists, political opponents and invades countries. Obviously that would be a concern, would it not?”
DT: He’s running his country, and at least he’s a leader, unlike what we have in this country.
JS: But again: He kills journalists that don’t agree with him.
DT: I think our country does plenty of killing, also, Joe, so, you know. There’s a lot of stupidity going on in the world right now, Joe. A lot of killing going on. A lot of stupidity. And that’s the way it is. But you didn’t ask me [that] question, you asked me a different question. So that’s fine.
There you have Trump’s infatuation with power, his total cluelessness and his amorality all in one short conversation. When President Obama utters moral equivalence of that type, the right jumps down his throat, justifiably. And when Trump does? We will see whether early-state voters begin to get queasy about a candidate whose autocratic, racist tendencies are his selling points.
In New Hampshire, Trump is down ever so slightly (26 percent, down 2 percent) in the newest Franklin Pierce University/Boston Herald poll. In the Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics poll, the gold standard in Iowa, he’s at 21 percent and has been passed by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.). In both, his unfavorable ratings are quite high (38 percent in the DMR/Bloomberg poll). The conventional wisdom is that his rowdy fans don’t care — and share his dark views. Maybe, but perhaps they also are not going to show up to vote, especially if it involves going out in a cold night in Iowa for a couple of hours to defend Trump to their friends and neighbors.
Cruz has problems of his own. After good reviews in the debate, he has been tormented for three days with his slippery responses on immigration. It’s a pattern, as a Post report aptly demonstrates, that extends to his positions on other topics, including the National Security Agency and Syria. And it requires him to deny that he was being honest in the past. He has also flip-flopped on legal immigration and is now denying (on anti-immigration hawk Laura Ingraham’s radio show) his own campaign chairman’s remarks that he wants to expand legal immigration.
Now Cruz has been rising in early polls, but it is not yet clear how he will fare as his penchant for deception becomes more widely known. Tucker Martin, spokesman for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s super PAC, tells me, “Seems to me voters are going to start asking a pretty basic question: Where does Senator Cruz really stand on the issues of the day?” He continues, “Take away the specific matters at hand, it gets down a to matter of trust. And that’s critical.”
In New Hampshire, which Cruz has rarely visited and which is more disposed to center-right contenders, there is some evidence that Cruz’s unfavorable rating is going up (from 45 percent to 57 percent in the electorate at large between October and December). Specifically with independents, who can vote in the GOP primary, his unfavorable rating is now at more than 37 percent and at 29.6 percent with Republicans. (By comparison, Christie’s unfavorable rating with independents is 34 percent and with Republicans is 27 percent; Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) unfavorable rating is 29.5 percent with independents and 24 percent with Republicans.) We don’t yet have a post-debate Iowa poll with which to assess Cruz’s likability.
So perhaps over time Trump and Cruz, who never had a competitive race on a national stage until now, may find things getting harder over time. If Cruz veers back to Iowa from a week-long tour of the March 1 “SEC Primary” states, it will be one sign that he’s concerned about shoring up support in a state in which he is now the clear favorite.
At the other end of the spectrum, Christie is having great success in the state he has focused on, New Hampshire. Post-debate, he is now in a statistical tie (11 percent) with Cruz and Rubio (12 percent each). More remarkable, however, is his dramatic turnaround in favorability. In October, he has seen a 27-point positive shift (39/46 to 30/64).
It is significant that all this is going on in December, not in August, when voters in those early states are getting more exacting in their assessment of the candidates. It is a truism that these states decide late, so shifts in the polls now may be decisive. It’s why they say you cannot peak too soon — because before you know it, you’re riding the rollercoaster downhill at the worst possible time.
Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.