Donald Trump’s chances are improving.
That’s what four-fifths of Republican insiders are saying in a survey by Politico. In a weekly survey of strategists, operatives and activists in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, 81 percent of those working for the GOP say the chances of Trump becoming their party’s nominee for president is higher today than it was in September. The number was similar for Democratic insiders at 79 percent.
“I can’t even describe the lunacy of him as our nominee. But reason has not applied to date in this race and my hopes are fleeting that it will ever surface,” one Iowa Republican told Politico anonymously.
“Predictions of his demise keep not coming true,” said a New Hampshire Republican.
In South Carolina, the activist said “Donald Trump being the GOP nominee is now within the realm of possibility.”
That doesn’t mean any of them think he is the favorite to win. Those thinking Trump had a 50-50 chance stood at 22 percent, the highest score among the survey, while the same percentage said the businessman has a 30 percent chance to win it. The rest were scattered with 10 percent (21 percent gave that number), 20 percent (16 percent of respondents) and 40 percent (12 percent). Only a handful said he was the odds on favorite.
But those percentages were higher for the 81 percent of the respondents than they were a month ago. One Iowa Republican who did not think Trump would win the nomination did say “Trump will be among 3-4 finalists well into April; of that there is no doubt.”
A New Hampshire Republican told political through the online survey that “Numbers are numbers and you have to give them credence — I remain skeptical that he has the ability to turn people out come primary day, but I [have] been wrong about this campaign every step of the way so far.”
Evidence of a ground operation has been one of the factors changing the minds of the insiders. They say that seeing Trump adopt a more serious campaign, with a stronger stump speech and his appeal to those who are tired of the same style of the political class are keeping Trump’s chances alive.
“The more time that goes by that he continues to lead — the more likely it is he wins. That simple. Also, comparatively, he is building a real campaign. More so than many others,” one Iowa pol said.
That strength is not playing in Nevada, where Republicans there say they have seen little evidence of a decent Trump ground operation, Politico said. There was one person do did comment that despite the lack of operation, “he has demonstrated that he is durable in a way that Herman Cain, Michele [Bachmann] and Newt Gingrich were not…A lot can happen in the next few months but it is time for everyone to stop whistling past the graveyard and realize that this is real and he could be our standard bearer.”
Several people added that while Trump’s odds have increased, so have the odds that the party would work against him if he continued to gain steam.
“Maybe, just maybe, Trump wins an early contest or two. That will trigger a much stronger Stop Trump movement,” a New Hampshire Republican said. “The party will nominate Bob Dole – in 2016! – before it will nominate Trump. And a Trump nomination will result in a third candidate emerging.”
Others predicted that the popularity of the real estate mogul can withstand candidate comments by opponent but will not be able to overcome the much more massive super PAC and big donor attacks that could be lurking as the primary season kicks into high gear.
“The summer of Trump has lasted longer than conventional wisdom suggested,” one pol in South Carolina suggested. “It’s going to take a sustained, multi-pronged paid media effort to educate voters that Trump is not a conservative and has flip-flopped on practically every issue. Major donors are quickly getting to the place where they are ready to fund such an effort.”
This will put added pressure on the main opponents to the billionaire businessmen, especially Jeb Bush. Nearly half of the Republicans surveyed said the former Florida governor has the most on the line in next week’s debate, needing a “knock out performance,” as one said.