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Ground game

How Trump is still on top

Donald Trump said in August: “I am not going anywhere, folks.”John Raoux/Associated Press

Since Donald Trump started leading GOP polls of the presidential race, a lot has happened. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady found his four-game suspension upheld before it was overruled. The pope visited the United States. Speaker of the House John Boehner resigned, and Paul Ryan succeeded him. Stephen Colbert took over “The Late Show.” Paris was attacked by terrorists.

One thing, however, has remained the same over the past 117 days: Trump has topped 21 straight polls among New Hampshire Republicans. He’s also led nearly every national poll as well, with the exception of a few second-place finishes to retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson.


Pundits and Trump’s rival GOP campaigns believed his moment would be short-lived. But the so-called Summer of Trump has continued two months into the fall. Just 11 weeks away from the Iowa caucuses, Trump is still on top or close to it.

There have been moments that many predicted would be Trump’s downfall, but he has proved his staying power. In the summer, Trump’s business partners abandoned him after comments he made about Mexican immigrants. Republican women denounced him after he took on Fox News host Megyn Kelly. He challenged John McCain’s war credentials. He called Iowa voters stupid.

Yet Trump remains at or near the top in polls. This baffles even Dartmouth College government professor James Russell Muirhead Jr.

“I have to confess that I am surprised. I would not have predicted that New Hampshire Republicans would go for Trump as they have,” Muirhead said.

In fact, it appears that only Trump is the one who was right in August, when he said this: “The only thing constant is Trump.”

“I am not going anywhere, folks,” he added.

Meanwhile, three Republicans have dropped out of the race: Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, former governor Rick Perry of Texas, and Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. And all left with pointed remarks about Trump.


There are four reasons why Trump has been on top for so long.

1. The size of the field

The fact there are 14 major Republicans running for president means that anyone, including Trump, can lead the field by owning a particular niche. Trump is the Republican front-runner with roughly 25 percent in polling, compared to Hillary Clinton who has consistently scored more than 50 percent in national polls with only a couple of opponents.

2. Jeb Bush’s collapse

Trump deserves credit for creating an “outsider” lane in which candidates can run. But the former Florida governor’s collapse from the top of the field to near the bottom has left an opening for the party’s “insider” candidate. And GOP insiders are splintered.

In the Real Clear Politics average of national Republican polls, Trump has 24.3 percent. Add up the average support from the insider candidates — Bush, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, Governor John Kasich of Ohio, and Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey — and it totals 26.6 percent. Individually, only Rubio has support in the double digits.

3. Trump is talented

Trump is not a newcomer to politics or a bright media spotlight.

“He has considerable political talent and is an engaged and charismatic speaker,” said New York University politics professor Patrick Egan. “He has honed his skills in reality television and in high stakes moments.”

Trump has also been willing to try different issues to see what works and what doesn’t. While his opponents struggle to raise money to get out their message, Trump is constantly on television news for free. He has only begun to air radio advertising in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.


4. The political environment is right for Trump

If Americans wanted to tweak their government to be a tad more conservative or liberal, they might go with more traditional options. Yet only 27 percent of Americans believe the country is on the right track, and many are blaming Washington as the reason things aren’t going well, according to the most recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

“Trump has lasted because he speaks to the anger that people feel toward Washington,” said the mayor of Manchester, N.H., Ted Gatsas. “These people don’t believe that other politicians get it.”

James Pindell can be reached at james.pindell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell, or subscribe to his daily e-mail update on the 2016 campaign at bostonglobe.com/groundgame.