My weekly Dateline DC column at WGBH News takes a look at the upcoming Iowa caucuses; please take a look at what I think you should watch for there.
As I was writing it, something interesting may have been happening: Republican voters might have started getting accustomed to the idea of Donald Trump as a serious Presidential candidate.
Skeptics like me have thought it likely that the party’s flirtation with Trump would thaw as voting begins — and it still might. The theory was that Trump’s unique qualities as the anti-establishment candidate were being aided by the relatively indistinguishable large field of other candidates, which was full of very qualified but not star-quality people. And, in turn, Trump’s unique star power was delaying the emergence of any of those candidates. But eventually that has to happen; eventually the field will narrow enough that a Rubio or Bush or whoever will have everyone’s attention.
And, of course, eventually GOP voters would pay attention enough to realize that Trump does not actually believe in the things that they believe in — just as in the 2008 cycle, Republicans holding a hagiographic idea of Rudy Giuliani as leadership incarnate eventually learned his past views on guns, immigrants, abortion, and homosexuals.
And meanwhile, Trump was not gaining any traction at all, particularly in Iowa and New Hampshire, where he was stuck in the mid- to high-20s for many months. That suggested a significant resistance among the bulk of the GOP electorate.
But just in the past week or so a flurry of polls have collectively shown that Trump has climbed to the low- to mid-30s in both Iowa and New Hampshire.
That might just be a short-term bump, as some of the other candidates have been beating up on each other in ads, as they vie for survival in the anti-Trump sweepstakes.
But I suspect that it indicates that GOP voters, having seen him treated as the frontrunner for so long, are becoming significantly more accustomed to him in that role. That seems to be reflected in the rising numbers who view him as likely to win the nomination, and as capable of winning in the general election.
We’ll see how that survives the attacks that have finally begun against him — including a strong ad showing him boasting of his pro-choice positions — and the still-likely emergence of a single so-called “establishment lane” candidate from among Rubio, Bush, Christie, and Kasich.
But for now, consider me less skeptical about Trump’s chances to win the nomination.