The Republican establishment was all set to end 2015 with a glint of hope twinkling off in the distance. On Tuesday, a poll from Quinnipiac University had Donald Trump in the lead, but by only four points – his smallest margin in months.
But then, on Wednesday, CNN ruined it. The network’s new poll, conducted with ORC, gives Trump a 21-point lead. That’s more than twice his nearest competitor, Cruz. And it also boosts Trump’s polling average to the highest point he’s seen this year, and puts him 13 points ahead of Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and John Kasich combined. (Bush, incidentally, trails Rand Paul in this new survey.)
More in depth in this poll, there’s more good news for Trump and bad news for Trump haters. Ted Cruz’s recent rise is largely a function of his scooping up conservatives who’ve abandoned Ben Carson. But CNN/ORC has Trump increasing his lead among conservatives, too.
What’s more, Republicans see Trump as the best candidate on the economy, on immigration and on battling the Islamic State terror group. Cruz has seen some increase on that last measure since the beginning of the month, but Trump still wins it in a walk.
And on top of that, more than half of Republicans said they viewed Trump as having the right experience for the job and sharing their values and that they’d be proud if he were elected – contra that Quinnipiac poll, in which half of Americans said they would be embarrassed if Trump were president.
The establishment, then, is left with only three little fragments of that once-sparkling diamond in the distance. First, there’s the possibility that this CNN poll is the outlier, not the Quinnipiac one. Second, there’s the fact that national polls are a rougher guide to what might happen in the election than state ones (since that’s where the elections are). And third, a plurality of Republicans think that the party will have a better chance next November if someone besides Trump wins the nomination. Viability is critical to voters as they make up their minds.