Donald Trump speaks in Ames, Iowa, on Saturday. (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Donald Trump has opened up a double-digit lead in the crowded field for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
According to a new ABC News/Washington Post national poll, Trump has the support of 24 percent of registered Republicans and Republican-leaning independents — 11 points higher than Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (13 percent) and 12 points ahead of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
And the real estate mogul has a substantial cushion (ranging from 16 to 21 points) on the rest of his GOP rivals, including former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (8 percent), Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (7 percent), retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson (6 percent), Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul (6 percent), Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (4 percent), former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (4 percent) and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (3 percent).
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former New York Gov. George Pataki, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, ex-Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham received 2 percent or less support, the poll found.
However, the bulk of the survey was conducted before Trump’s controversial comments about Arizona Sen. John McCain.
“He’s not a war hero,” Trump said at a GOP summit in Ames, Iowa, Saturday. “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”
During the poll’s first three days (Thursday through Saturday), Trump was the choice of 28 percent of respondents. But on Sunday, less than 10 percent of respondents said they would support him — a signal Trump’s comments about McCain may cause his lead to evaporate.
The release of the poll comes on the same day the Des Moines Register, Iowa’s largest-circulation newspaper, published a blistering editorial calling on Trump to bow out of the race — or, as the paper put it, “pull the plug on his bloviating side show”:
People who run for public office typically perform a great public service, regardless of whether they win on Election Day. That’s particularly true of presidential candidates, most of whom must devote two years of their lives to hard-fought campaigns that involve staggering personal and financial sacrifices, all in an effort to serve their country.
And then there’s Trump.
In the five weeks since he announced his campaign to seek the GOP nomination for president, Trump has been more focused on promoting himself, and his brand, than in addressing the problems facing the nation. If he were merely a self-absorbed, B-list celebrity, his unchecked ego could be tolerated as a source of mild amusement. But he now wants to become president, which means that he aspires to be the leader of the free world and the keeper of our nuclear launch codes.
That is problematic, because Trump, by every indication, seems wholly unqualified to sit in the White House. If he had not already disqualified himself through his attempts to demonize immigrants as rapists and drug dealers, he certainly did so by questioning the war record of John McCain, the Republican senator from Arizona.
He has become “the distraction with traction” — a feckless blowhard who can generate headlines, name recognition and polling numbers not by provoking thought, but by provoking outrage.
Graham, McCain’s longtime friend in the Senate, agreed.
“He’s becoming a jackass at a time when we need to have a serious debate about the future of the party and the country,” Graham told CNN. “This is a line he’s crossed, and this is the beginning of the end of Donald Trump.”
McCain’s children are also weighing in on Trump’s comments.
“My father has been in public office since before I was born,” Meghan McCain said on Fox News, “and this is one of the grossest, most disgusting comments I’ve ever heard, which is really saying something — I’m 30 years old.”
Jack McCain, a Navy helicopter pilot, called Trump’s comments about prisoners of war “reprehensible.”
“Donald Trump has to understand he’s running to be the commander in chief of the United States military,” Jack McCain said. “When you’re doing so, if an individual gets rolled up and becomes a prisoner of war, then is he going to abandon them simply because he doesn’t like people who are captured? I think that’s a pretty inflammatory statement for somebody who is trying to be the commander in chief of the United States military.”
In interviews on ABC and NBC following his comments about McCain, Trump was defiant and unapologetic. But on Fox News Monday night, the billionaire businessman seemed to back off, if only a bit.
“I have respect for Sen. McCain. I used to like him a lot,” Trump told Bill O’Reilly. “I supported him. I raised a lot of money for his campaign against President Obama and certainly if there was a misunderstanding, I would totally take that back. But, hopefully, I said it correctly.”
For a “bloviating” “blowhard,” that’s about as close to an apology as McCain may get.