Wednesday, December 16, 2015
Only voters can now stop businessman Donald Trump’s march to the White House. Last night’s Republican debate seemed a tacit acknowledgement of that, with only the long-shot candidates willing to take Trump head-on.
Perhaps that’s no surprise when 70% of Likely Republican Voters say Trump is likely to be their party’s nominee in our latest Trump Change survey, and this survey was taken the week after he proposed his temporary – and highly controversial - ban on Muslims coming to this country.
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush who delivered his most aggressive debate performance of the year was Trump’s harshest critic, but that’s not likely to move his numbers in the polls. He also was on the receiving end of one of Trump’s most withering comments of the evening: “With Jeb’s attitude, we will never be great again, that I can tell you. We will never be great again.”
Trump’s critics continue to harp on his lack of “seriousness” and offer their own wonkish policy proposals while the flamboyant billionaire developer keeps it simple. As he said again last night: “We need a toughness. We need strength. We’re not respected, you know, as a nation anymore. We don’t have that level of respect that we need. And if we don’t get it back fast, we’re just going to go weaker, weaker and just disintegrate. We can’t allow that to happen. We need strength.”
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie nailed that point when he ridiculed an exchange between Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio: “If your eyes are glazing over like mine, this is what it’s like to be on the floor of the United States Senate. I mean, endless debates about how many angels on the head of a pin from people who’ve never had to make a consequential decision in an executive position.” Christie flexed his muscles by repeating last night his willingness to shoot down Russian planes that enter a U.S.-established safe zone in Syria.
Following the recent massacre in San Bernardino, California by radical Islamic terrorists, belief that the terrorists are winning the War on Terror is near its highest level ever in regular surveying since 2004. So perhaps it’s not surprising in a growing climate of fear that strength trumps nuance.
Some of Trump’s more successful opponents get it. Despite the best efforts of CNN’s panel of moderators, Dr. Ben Carson, Rubio, Cruz and Christie staked out their positions – some clearly at odds with Trump – without ever criticizing their chief opponent by name. After all, each of them is hoping to inherit Trump’s voters if the front-runner stumbles.
And the pause in immigration from countries known to harbor radical Islamic terrorists proposed by Cruz, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and even Ohio Governor John Kasich sounded a lot like the temporary ban called for by Trump. Again, the CNN panel sounded more outraged by Trump’s proposal than most of his opponents on stage, perhaps because 66% of Republicans – and a plurality of all voters - favor a temporary ban on all Muslims entering the United States until the federal government improves its ability to screen out potential terrorists from coming here.
Curiously absent from last night’s debate was any mention of global warming which President Obama and leading Democrats have said is a greater long-term threat to the United States than terrorism. Only Trump touched on it with a harsh dismissal of the president’s point of view.
Rasmussen Reports will offer up some new numbers at 10:30 a.m. Eastern today on how voters feel about the recent global warming deal the president reached with other world leaders in Paris. But they’ve told us in the past that while global warming is a serious concern, job creation is more important.
At the same time, 60% of U.S. voters now think the United States is at war with radical Islamic terrorism, and all the Republican candidates agree. Forty-nine percent (49%) agree with Carson that the United States should formally declare war on the radical Islamic State group ISIS. Both these surveys were taken before San Bernardino, too.
Yet while he was just as bellicose as his opponents when discussing Islamic terrorism, Trump also sounded a cautionary note more reminiscent of old school conservatives like Pat Buchanan than the new breed of neoconservatives who have come to dominate GOP foreign policy: “We’ve spent $4 trillion trying to topple various people that frankly, if they were there and if we could’ve spent that $4 trillion in the United States to fix our roads, our bridges, and all of the other problems, our airports and all of the other problems we’ve had, we would’ve been a lot better off. … It’s not like we had victory. It’s a mess. The Middle East is totally destabilized.”
Carly Fiorina quickly jumped on Trump for sounding just like Obama, and her comment and several sharp exchanges between Rubio and Paul highlighted the clear foreign policy and military build-up differences of opinion among the GOP candidates. These differences really came to the forefront during the Fox Business debate in early November.
Trump’s comments, however, suggest that Democrats may have a hard time dismissing him as just another Republican hawk, and he’s clearly now looking ahead to the contest with Hillary Clinton. Unusually conciliatory last night, Trump praised several of his opponents by name, reaching out to touch both Carson and Cruz who flanked him on the stage. He also gave shout-outs to Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee who appeared in the earlier of the evening’s two debates.
When asked if he would run as an independent if he loses the GOP nomination, Trump was unequivocal: “I am totally committed to the Republican Party. I feel very honored to be the front-runner. … If I’m so fortunate to be chosen, I think I’ll do very well. Polls have come out recently saying I would beat Hillary. I will do everything in my power to beat Hillary Clinton, I promise you.” It was his strongest applause line of the evening.
Not that Republican voters aren’t still nervous about their likely nominee, if the audience at last night’s debate is any indicator. For the longtime party front-runner, Trump received surprisingly tepid applause at times, and at one point he even chided the audience when some booed his call for infiltrating the Internet conversations of suspected terrorists.
Ready or not, here he comes. Now we’ll find out if Americans in the privacy of the voting booth agree.
Fran Coombs is the managing editor of Rasmussen Reports.
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