The latest Suffolk University/USA Today poll is likely spooking Republicans in Washington and eliciting cheers from Hillary Clinton headquarters. The poll finds Donald Trump leading the pack of GOP White House hopefuls with 17 percent support, with all the remaining candidates but Jeb Bush registering just single digits.
Trump's rise has been swift; he was at just one percent support as late as mid-June in one NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. But since his announcement last month (and with it his controversial remarks about illegal immigrants from Mexico), Trump has shot up and may very well be in the lead for the Republican nomination. This development, we are told from such diverse sources as Mitt Romney, the New Yorker, and various conservative voices, is hurting the Republican party and its eventual nominee.
Peggy Noonan offered a dissent to this line of thinking:
Does Mr. Trump ruin the Republican brand? That tends to be the eager question of those who hope he will ruin the Republican brand. But he’s his own brand. He doesn’t call his hotels “Republican Plaza.” He spends much of his time knocking Republicans, setting himself apart from the party and its contenders. If he says something stupid and cheap it will reflect on him. If he should say something brilliant and wise it will not redound to the benefit of the GOP.
If it is the case, though, that Trump is hurting those candidates with a higher likelihood of being the nominee, we have yet to see any evidence. Jeb Bush, for instance, began 2015 at an average of 8.8 points behind likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Today's he's 5.4 points behind. Since Clinton entered the race in April, she has led Wisconsin governor Scott Walker by as little as 3 points and as many as 17, and she leads him on average now by 10 points. And Marco Rubio has been more or less consistently behind Clinton by about 6 percentage points.
So since Trump has entered the race, three of the leading serious Republican contenders are right where they were before the Donald jumped in: several points behind Clinton. That's a problem for the GOP, but not one of Trump's making.