It’s a cliché because it’s true: Donald Trump appears increasingly immune to the usual laws of politics. The latest evidence comes by way of a pair of new polls conducted in the wake of Thursday’s Republican presidential debate, at which Trump struggled to answer aggressive questions from the Fox News moderators—and after which he effectively suggested that the grilling he faced was the result of Megyn Kelly’s menstruation.
In a Morning Consult national survey conducted over a three-day stretch that ended Sunday—aka after the debate—Trump led the pack with the support of 32 percent of self-identified Republicans and Republican-leaning independents—nearly three times the support of his closest challenger, Jeb Bush, who was the first-choice of 11 percent of respondents. Trump’s 21-point lead was well outside the online poll’s margin of error of 3.59 points. According to the pollsters, there was “no evidence” that Trump’s support was slipping even after he told CNN on Friday night that Kelly had “blood coming out of her [pause] wherever” during the debate. (For numerical context: RealClearPolitics’ rolling national average had Trump with an 11.8-point lead on the GOP field heading into the debate.)
It was a similar story in a Public Policy Polling survey conducted in Iowa over the same post-debate stretch. Nineteen percent of likely GOP primary voters picked Trump as their candidate of choice, 7 points more than chose either Scott Walker or Ben Carson, who tied for second with 12 percent support apiece. (Trump’s lead here is narrowly within that survey’s margin of error.) “Donald Trump’s public fight with Fox News might hurt him in the long run,” said Dean Debnam, the president of the Democratic-leaning polling outfit. “But for the time being, he continues to lead the pack.” (For context: RealClearPolitics’ rolling Iowa average had Trump with a 1.6 point-lead on the GOP field heading into the debate.)
These are individual polls taken immediately after the debate, so the usual caveats apply concerning the limits to what they can tell us. It’s possible that Trump’s debate performance and ensuing talk show tantrums could still derail his campaign; if they don’t, the backlash they’ve prompted from Fox News and its conservative media allies always could. There’s still very good reason to think that Trump’s bid for the GOP nomination will be long dead by next summer’s Republican National Convention. But these first post-debate polls do provide another reminder that politicos, pundits, and journalists are still struggling to wrap their heads around the durability of Trump’s particular appeal. We keep expecting his campaign to implode, but so far every time it begins to smoke it instead ends up catching fire.
Elswhere in Slate: