Trump the Nuisance

Okay, he’s surprised a lot of people by actually announcing as a candidate for president instead of just making endless gestures in that direction. But do we have to treat Donald Trump, a man who’s long mastered the art of making money from self-promotion, as a serious candidate for president?

FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten says no, and has a simple rationale for that judgment:

Trump is the first candidate in modern presidential primary history to begin the campaign with a majority of his own party disliking him. A whopping 57 percent of Republicans have an unfavorable view of Trump, according to an average of the three most recent polls. That beats former record holder Pat Buchanan, who had a 43 percent unfavorable rating at this point in the 2000 election cycle. Buchanan, of course, ended up running as an independent.

Taking into account name recognition, Trump’s net favorability rating (favorable minus unfavorable) of -32 percentage points stands out for its pure terribleness at this point in the campaign. Like his unfavorable rating, it is by far the worst of the 106 presidential candidates since 1980 who are in our database.

As it happens Trump could soon be joined by Chris Christie by beginning a presidential race with underwater favorability ratings in his own party. But he’d have to work hard to become as unpopular as Trump.

In adjudging The Donald as “unserious,” however, one undervalues the serious impact he could have on at least one “serious” candidate who doesn’t make the cut for the first-of-the-cycle first-tier debate Fox News is holding in August because Trump is taking one of the spots, which seems likely. Right now in the RealClearPolitics average of national polls (not exactly the measure Fox News will use, since they exclude robopolls, but not a bad approximater, either) Trump’s running ninth, and has twice the popular support mustered by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, considered a real possibility for the nomination by some observers. And that doesn’t factor in the havoc Trump could cause in the debates once he’s there, as someone who probably doesn’t care at all whether the other candidates and their supporters like him, and who does have a certain genius for cheap demagoguery aimed at low-information voters.

So Trump is the classic “nuisance” candidate, understanding that sometimes a “nuisance” can be a serious matter.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.