Last week, the trend seemed clear: After an NBC/WSJ poll showed a pretty tight GOP race, several other nationwide surveys served up gigantic leads for Donald Trump -- suggesting that NBC's results must have been an anomaly. Not so fast. Fresh from Quinnipiac:
National GOP poll - @QuinnipiacPoll Trump 28% Cruz 24% Rubio 12% Carson 10% Christie 6% Bush 4% Fiorina/Paul 2%— Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) December 22, 2015
A few top line notables: Trump is back in the mid-to-high 20's with Ted Cruz hot on his heels. Marco Rubio has lost ground, slipping to a distant third (more on him on a moment). And Chris Christie has surged, displacing Bush in fifth place, where Jeb was just getting comfortable. Diving into the internals:
(1) Trump loses to Hillary by seven points, with Cruz and Rubio each tying her. This marks yet another national poll showing The Donald getting, er, "schlonged" by Mrs. Clinton. Trump is weighed down by his terrible (-26) net favorability rating, by far the worst among the major candidates (only Bush is slightly worse). Just as many GOP voters (28 percent) say they'd "definitely not" support Trump as select him as their top choice. Fifty percent of American voters say they'd be "embarrassed" if Trump is elected president. Less than half that number say they'd be "proud."
(2) Cruz helped himself at last week's debate, lapping the GOP field on the "who won?" question. He's also inched into positive territory (+2) on personal favorability, easily surpassing Trump and trailing only Rubio (+9) on this metric. The good news for Trump and the tougher news for Cruz is that the former's support is far more locked in than the latter's. Republican voters are liking what they see from Cruz at the moment, but the Texan's support is far softer than the man he's still chasing:
Q-poll: Roughly 2/3 of Trump voters are locked in, whereas nearly same % of Cruz voters still open to changing: pic.twitter.com/gxLHln2dWU— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) December 22, 2015
(3) Hillary Clinton remains an extraordinarily weak frontrunner. On key fundamental measures, she's disliked and distrusted by voters:
Hillary Clinton's robust fundamentals. Nice nominee, Democrats: Favorability (-8) Honesty (-24) Empathy (-4) Shares values (-13) #QPoll— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) December 22, 2015
Republican voters must decide which GOP candidate is best positioned and equipped to exploit these weaknesses. A few musings: How many more polls like this will it take for Trump to re-engage his anti-Cruz sniping? The Texas Senator appears to be solidifying his lead in Iowa, where the celebrity billionaire's ground game is reportedly underperforming. Can Trump shrug off a thumping in the Hawkeye State, or would a sound defeat expose his "I'm a winner" narrative as a mirage? Ben Carson is bleeding support and cash. Is there any chance he drops out before Iowa, a state in which he's theoretically well-situated to perform well, but has been in free fall since early November? Carson exiting the race would be a boon to Cruz, and Rubio to a lesser extent, it seems. And speaking of Rubio, it's obviously far too early for his team to panic (his favorables are tops among the field, both among the Republican and overall electorate, and he consistently matches up well against Hillary in hypothetical match-ups), but at what point do they start getting seriously concerned? The Floridian's support tumbled by five points in this series, as Cruz is doubling him up. Rubio tends to be a strong debater, so he'll have two major opportunities to build momentum on a national stage next month, prior to any votes being cast. But as things stand today (and yes, political realities can shift dramatically), Cruz looks like Iowa is his to lose, while Rubio is ensnarled in a logjam for second place in New Hampshire (tied with Christie and Cruz), behind Trump. Deep red South Carolina also seems like fertile ground for Trump and Cruz. If Rubio starts to feel like an afterthought once February's four caucuses and primaries are in the books, does he risk going the way of 2008 Rudy Giuliani? If so, his early state strategy will invite even more scrutiny. I'll leave you with the latest from a pro-Rubio SuperPAC, casting their guy as the only Republican in the field to score a body blow against Obamacare, and highlighting his strength against Hillary:
It's a solid appeal to Republican voters in general, but does it fix Rubio's early state issue? As Jeb Bush has taught us, running lots of ads doesn't guarantee success.