New York businessman Donald Trump entered March as if nothing could stop him from becoming the Republican nominee for president. But in the last two weeks, his momentum has slowed, he has become less popular, and his path to the nomination has become less clear.
On March 1, it was definitely a good day to be Trump. He had already won three of the first four early nominating contests, and the first round of Super Tuesday contests gave him victories in 10 out of the first 15 primaries and caucuses.
No one in the modern history of presidential politics had lost the nomination after getting that kind of strong start. In fact, this is historically the time in the election when candidates improve because they have been tested by party rivals. What’s more, their inevitability as a nominee becomes accepted. The money and endorsements flow to their campaigns as easily as their poll numbers go up.
This hasn’t happened for Trump. Instead, the opposite has.
His opponents have seized more endorsements, gained some (limited) momentum, and, for the first time, his polling numbers show he is becoming less well liked. HuffPost Pollster aggregated survey data on this trend, which show the percentage of people who have favorable impressions of Trump has declined since February. The most recent slew of polls shows nearly two out of every three survey respondents say they don’t like him.
One other thing happened to Trump this month: Republican Party elites formally vocalized their disdain for the front-runner in an organized fashion, declaring “Never Trump.” Republicans organized and started to air advertisements that highlighted Trump’s disparaging comments toward women. Mitt Romney served as the most vocal member of this movement by calling Trump “a phony” and “a fraud.”
“They are concerned about Trump’s rise to the nomination,” said Vanderbilt University political professor and pollster John Geer. “They are certainly trying to organize the best they can. It is not clear yet that it has had a big effect.”
While Trump has not had the best month in political history, he’s still far ahead in the delegate count compared to US Senator Ted Cruz and Ohio Governor John Kasich. Trump has 673 delegates — more than half of the number he needs to win. Cruz trails him with 411 delegates, and Kasich has 143.
But even as the number of candidates dropped from 17 to three — US Senator Marco Rubio being the most recent departure after he lost the Florida primary this week — Trump’s support has not grown significantly. Supporters of the candidates who have dropped out have not fallen into line behind Trump as they did with, say, US Senator John McCain in 2008, who had wrapped up the nomination after about a month of contests.
Leaving aside his 73 percent win Tuesday in the Northern Mariana Islands, Trump’s biggest win so far came in Massachusetts where he received 49 percent of the vote on March 1. In the 13 contests that followed between March 2 and 14, Trump had a smaller share of the vote. Most of his winning percentages were between 30 and 40 percent. The closest he got to his Massachusetts win was the Mississippi primary, where he got 47 percent of the vote.
To be sure, Trump did well on Tuesday, when he won the primaries in Florida, Illinois, Missouri, and North Carolina. But on March 1, polls also showed him winning Ohio, where Kasich had a double-digit victory this week.
And while Trump clearly enjoys attention, the news coverage lately has not been so kind to his brand. He struggled with an endorsement from David Duke, a white nationalist; the allegation that his campaign manager manhandled a female reporter; and canceling a Chicago rally due to violence. Furthermore, North Carolina officials briefly considering charging Trump with the crime of inciting a riot.
But Trump has an advantage that no other candidate has right now: money. And none of his GOP rivals have enough momentum to raise enough cash to compete.