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The Trump moment won’t last — just check history

REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Supporters holding cut-outs of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump while waiting in line outside a campaign town hall meeting in Derry, N.H., on Wednesday.

The Trump moment seems to still be building. In the latest polls, among Republicans Donald Trump leads both Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, even in Florida.

A great many pundits who started out assuring the public that this cannot last have decided to stop acting so sure about that. Not so Lynn Vavreck, and she’s got a few facts from not-so-ancient history to suggest why it’s too soon to believe that the Donald is here to stay.

UCLA political scientist Vavreck, who writes often for the hoi polloi, takes to the Upshot blog of The New York Times to remind us of a few moments from the contest for the 2012 Republican nomination. The story of such flashes in the frontrunner pan as Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain and Rick Perry has been mentioned before by others, but it has begun to seem as if Trump has lasted so long and risen so high that the comparisons no longer apply.

Unless, that is, you check the history. From Vavrek’s piece:

Is there reason to believe that Mr. Trump will be the nominee because he is well ahead of the others in the polls now? No. Does it matter that he has been ahead for so long now? No.

I tracked such candidate boomlets in 2012 with John Sides, a political scientist at George Washington University, and we called the process “discovery, scrutiny and decline.” What Mr. Sides and I learned in 2012 was not about just the dramatic onset and disappearance of these boomlets. It was also their duration: Some of them lasted a long time.

Let’s look back to August 2011. A headline in The Times proclaimed “Promising Better Direction, Perry Enters Race.” Within two weeks, CBS reported “Rick Perry Surges to Front in Latest GOP Poll.” By Aug. 21, Mr. Perry had outpaced the rest of the pack, garnering 29 percent of the vote in a Gallup Poll to Mitt Romney’s 17 percent…

Perhaps because of faulty memory, we seem to be thinking of the candidate surges in 2011 as happening quickly, but they didn’t. Some, like Mr. Perry’s, took time. Lots of it. He was the front-runner for the G.O.P. nomination in the fall of 2011 for roughly 44 days. Herman Cain stayed atop the polls, sometimes earning as much as 40 percent of the crowded field, for about 41 days as voters and media checked him out… He ceded the lead to Newt Gingrich, who held it for nearly 47 days, until January 2012.

We call them boomlets because they don’t build and last throughout the nominating process, not because they are quick, fleeting or irrelevant. For at least 132 days in 2011 someone other than Mitt Romney, the eventual nominee, was the front-runner in the Republican field of candidates for president — despite Mr. Romney’s being in the race that whole time. Pundits explained that pattern in 2011 as a dissatisfaction with Mr. Romney that was leading people to look elsewhere — anywhere else — for a nominee, but the evidence didn’t support that argument. People shop around.

Comments (26)

  1. Submitted by Mark Ohm on 08/21/2015 - 04:34 pm.

    Ironic: The Atlantic just posted the exact opposite article

    Maybe This Time Really Is Different:
    Historical precedents augur against Donald Trump—but perhaps the old rules no longer apply.

  2. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/21/2015 - 05:18 pm.

    Santayana said it

    “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
    People are still people.

  3. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 08/21/2015 - 08:18 pm.

    I never

    imagined George W. Bush could become President of the US either.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/24/2015 - 05:05 pm.


      A reading of history also said that his father–the sitting Vice President–was unlikely to win in 1988.

    • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 08/25/2015 - 04:31 pm.

      In 1999, I was living in a high-rise in Portland, Oregon

      Many of the residents of the more expensive apartments were elderly, wealthy widows who spent their days sitting around in the lobby drinking coffee.

      One of them was a major contributor to the state Republican Party, and I walked into the lobby one day when she was telling everyone that George W. Bush was going to be the nominee in 2000.

      None of the women knew what my political sentiments were, and most of what I knew about Bush came from Molly Ivins’ unflattering descriptions, so I simply said, “Really? Surely he’s not the best you have!”

      Ms. Major Contributordeclared,”I don’t know about that, but they told us at a dinner last night that he was going to be the nominee.” (I doubt that she was supposed to have revealed that, but she was a bit on the dim and flighty side, irrespective of political affiliation.)

      I wonder if the “smoke-filled room” of yore is as dead as we think it is–in either party.

  4. Submitted by Roy Everson on 08/22/2015 - 03:05 am.

    George Wallace with billlions, minus the accent

    The story of 2011-12 was much different. The flashes-in-the-pan were all debutantes except for Gingrich (with much less money than Trump), meaning that a few gaffes meant a quick exit. Front-running Wall Street candidate Romney confidently moved to the right to be adequately “conservative”. Trump is a well known quantity whose “gaffes” are part of the appeal, therefore he has a Teflon coating that preserves his base — perhaps enough to make him the GOP’s kingmaker.

    Better to compare him to George Wallace, another right-wing demagogue whose support in opinion polls was much higher than his final vote total. That’s the usual pattern for right-wing populists.

    But to predict Trump’s future is useless unless you can also predict the economy. If there was an economic collapse tomorrow and millions were severely impacted over the next months, a character like Trump could be extremely dangerous. Hard times make victims susceptable to easy answers like building walls and fingers pointing at scapegoats for everything that’s gone wrong.

  5. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 08/22/2015 - 06:59 am.


    Ronald Reagan lasted.

  6. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 08/22/2015 - 07:16 am.

    Why not Trump?

    For me, right now, there are three issues that matter. First, this issue of war and peace. It’s pretty clear to me that each of the Republican candidates will eventually go to war with Iraq, with the possible exceptions of Rand Paul and Donald Trump. Since I believe war with Iran would be a colossal mistake, Trump and Rand become the obvious choices. Secondly, there is the issue of the economy. Without going into much explanation, it’s absolutely clear to me that Trump’s willingness, eagerness even to invest in America’s infrastructure makes him far superior to each of the other candidates who advocate the same bubble based economics that nearly destroyed our country seven years ago. On economic issues, Trump is the clear winner. Thirdly, the issue of health insurance. Quite frankly, every other Republican candidate besides Trump has made it a point that they will take away my health insurance on day one of their administration.That being the case, why would I vote for anyone besides Trump?

    I know, there is a lot of noise from Donald Trump. He says stuff that as a liberal, leaves me in a permanent state of high dudgeon. Anchor babies indeed, where’s my fainting couch? It is the case that as a Democrat I will vote for the candidate my party nominates. But what does it say about the Republican Party, that in a race where every other candidate is an advocate of demonstrable idiocies, it’s only the reasonable and sensible candidate that history, even recent history, works against?

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/25/2015 - 08:50 am.

      This is why you can’t trust democrats

      From stadium deals and idiotic wars, to chump presidential candidates they can talk themselves into anything. Why not Trump? Trump is a mediocre executive who’s made a living conning others into investing in his projects; several of which have gone bankrupt. Even if he did try to fix the countries transportation infrastructure it would likely turn into a fiasco.

      The REAL advantage of Trump from a democrat’s perspective… any democrat beats him.

  7. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/22/2015 - 09:44 am.

    Even a stopped clock

    is right twice a day.
    But how do you know that Trump will say the same things tomorrow, much less after being elected?

  8. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 08/22/2015 - 12:35 pm.

    Trump, the GOP’s Roman Candle

    His fuse has been lit. There is a lot of bluster as he leaves the ground, reaches apogee, explodes, and fizzles to the ground. Right now he is getting crowds of curiosity seekers. I’ve seen where GOPers are even getting tired of his blo·vi·at·ing, as they put it. Much to the GOP leadership’s dismay, Trump is leading in the polls across the US. The GOP’s leadership isn’t happy with their current poll leader, Trump. The 15 GOP “followers” found it necessary to start using Trump’s words like anchor babies, citizenship birthrights, etc., so they too can get noticed. Shortly, the dropouts will start to happen as the GOP bench starts to run out of money, backers, and GOP wisdom. Some should never have been in the race in the first place, some aren’t conservative enough, and some refuse to compete with Mr. Trump. Hate to see how they would handle world leaders. Trump, at some point, will have to speak beyond narcissistic comments and tell us how he will accomplish all the grandeur. Not likely, but if Trump becomes the nominee, he has alienated too many of the voters he needs to win. America will tire of narcissism, quickly. The GOP circus continues.

  9. Submitted by Bob Anderson on 08/22/2015 - 06:30 pm.


    Whether you like Trump or not he is here to stay. Both parties are nervous and don’t know how to handle him. He is bringing to the forefront issues that resonate with the American voters. The political correct candidates from both parties tip toe around these issues and Trump just says it the way he feels. We are facing a time when trying someone outside of the establishment is becoming more popular than ever.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/22/2015 - 08:59 pm.

      You state the problem


    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/24/2015 - 05:08 pm.

      “Trump just says it the way he feels.”

      Why is that a virtue?

      Saying it “the way he feels” shows that he is a bombastic demagogue who is not above pandering to the racist, nativist sentiments that have long been poorly hidden in this country. Sure that’s “the way he feels.” It’s no less repellent for all that.

  10. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 08/23/2015 - 07:01 am.

    But how do you know that Trump will say the same things tomorrow, much less after being elected?

    Our system of checks and balances seems to have been designed by the founders to prevent our presidents from dong what they were elected to do. I don’t expect there will be any wall during a Trump presidency. But Trump still has the argument that since he didn’t take their money, he isn’t so beholden to those special interests who are the ones most adept and doing that checking and balancing.

    Now I am not going to vote for Trump. But I do recognize him as a challenge to some fundamental assumptions, some of them held by my fellow Democrats.My party, the Democratic Party is far too influenced by the power of money, i.e. wealthy donors, i.e. the Donald Trumps of the world. I think most Democrats and indeed most Americans would like to find a way of neutralizing the role of money in politics. What prevents that from happening is that the leadership in either party but perhaps particularly the Democratic Party has found a way, or perhaps the will to do that. Donald Trump offers at least, one way out of our long political nightmare. The appeal of that should not be underestimated.

  11. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/24/2015 - 12:30 pm.

    Trump…. again?

    Just to recap, the singe Black Ink article with the most Facebook likes in the last month is: “Bernie Sanders Won’t Play the Game” with over 650 “likes”, ten times more than any other article. Yet… we have five article about Trump, who will never get into the White House, one article about Hillary Clinton, and two about Sanders. Meanwhile Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren have reportedly met and discussed a ticket for a presidential bid, and all of these democratic candidates beat Trump in a national poll by double digits. I didn’t read this article about Trump, and I’m not going to, I just note that we have yet ANOTHER article about a guy who’s not win the 2016 election.

  12. Submitted by Bob Petersen on 08/25/2015 - 08:30 am.

    Jesse Ventura…

    didn’t have just a flash in the pan and became our governor. What he did is nearly the same as what the Donald is doing, speak his mind, get everything out in the open, and do it without being politically correct. Everyone that is saying they don’t get why Trump is so popular right now because they are the ones that want those elected to be the same old people that have abysmal approval ratings. Jesse got elected because he spoke more from what he thought what made sense for the people, not the safe things that those elected wanted. He was far from eloquent, but was liked because of his no-nonsense and lack of spin.

  13. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 08/25/2015 - 10:28 am.

    Donald Trump is our Jesse Ventura.

    Both are narcissists, both have turned their narcissism into personal success, both are very thin skinned when to comes to criticism. Over the years Jesse did manage to say one thing that I agree with. When you win as a third party candidate, as he did, there is nobody there to help you. I think as a Republican or a third party candidate Trump will have the same problem because he is burning too many bridges in the process of getting elected. I also don’t believe Trump can win as he is alienating the voters he needs to win. No way will he get the minority, women’s, or Hispanic votes he needs.

  14. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/25/2015 - 11:06 am.

    Trump isn’t really a Ventura

    I know the comparison is tempting but Ventura didn’t run as a republican, or try to get a party nomination and then run as an independent. That’s actually a HUGE difference.

    And I remind everyone that the idea of Ventura was a lot more exciting than his leadership. It’s unlikely he would have won a second term.

  15. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 08/25/2015 - 12:05 pm.

    Who Can Trump Trump?

    We can only hope Trump does indeed become the Republican presidential candidate. It would make an interesting and easy win for the Democratic candidate.

    Back in 2012 when all the storied and intelligent Republican candidates came out to oppose Obama I postulated that we were getting the GOP B team on this round as the smart money was sitting it out till 2016. 2016 was an open race with no incumbent, so it’s easier for a candidate to slip in and win the presidency.

    But now we’re seeing every worm coming out of the rotten woodwork, each one vying to see if the can be more weird than the next guy. Far from the A team, we’ve got the zed team, ready to alienate anyone except tea party knuckle draggers, who are the only people in the country that can make the candidates look sane.

    It’ll be an interesting campaign season, to say the least. I’ve already stocked in a whole pallet of popcorn in preparation for the debates.

    • Submitted by Bill Willy on 08/25/2015 - 05:26 pm.

      The A team

      No disagreement from me, but I was just sitting here trying to think of which Republicans would be on that A team if the A team was running, but couldn’t come up with anyone. Is my memory just blocked, or is what we see all there is?

    • Submitted by jason myron on 08/25/2015 - 08:21 pm.

      I agree, Todd.

      What I find amusing is that so many republicans are bragging about their “deep bench” of candidates. When the rest of America starts paying attention next year, they’re going to take one look at these people and run towards the left. Most of them have all the likeability of dysentery.

  16. Submitted by Bill Willy on 08/25/2015 - 05:09 pm.


    In this afternoon’s edition of the Glean, Adam L. linked to an Onion article describing Scott Walker’s recent injuries. And just below that was a brief article explaining DT’s polling numbers:

    Here are some reasons Trump stays so popular with his supporters:

    Highly relatable lack of qualifications for holding government office

    American’s appreciation for classic underdog story of man who started with only several hundred million dollars and went on to make several billion dollars

    Only candidate to publicly state willingness to make America great again

    Exploits other Republican candidates’ weaknesses by allowing them to open their mouths and speak on issues

    Very, very handsome

    Voters eager to see presidential library with three infinity pools and rooftop driving range

    Bolstered by impassioned endorsement from Donald Trump

    Eccentric, megalomaniac billionaire still more relatable to average American than anyone willing to dedicate life to politics

    Appeals to widespread desire to see nation implode sooner rather than later

  17. Submitted by James Norquist on 08/26/2015 - 04:23 pm.

    Trump is pandering and cynical

    I believe Trump pushed the issue of President Obama’s birth certificate knowing full well that Obama was born in Hawaii.

    He did this to pander to low-information citizens, and, I believe, to lay the groundwork for his presidential campaign.

    He is also pandering with his “build a fence” argument.

    I believe Trump will crash and burn once voters get to know more about him; but hey, I could be wrong.

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