According to most polls, Donald Trump’s support among Republicans is close to 30 percent, and the conventional wisdom, I think, is that he has the solid support of 20 to 25 percent of Republicans. In a field as crowded as the GOP’s is likely to remain for a good while, even 25 percent support can carry a candidate a long way, and Trump’s number surely will increase as candidates drop out.
I don’t necessarily dispute the conventional wisdom. However, I found it interesting that according to a new Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll of likely New Hampshire Republican primary voters, Mitt Romney (if he were running) would beat Trump 31-15 in New Hampshire.
If we believe this poll, then Trump’s core of support is considerably less than 20 to 25 percent, at least in New Hampshire. And Trump’s New Hampshire number has consistently been close to his national number.
What are the other possible implications of the Suffolk University/Boston Globe survey? It might mean that Trump’s strong numbers in polls not involving Romney reflect his strong name recognition. Matched against candidates who haven’t yet become that well known (plus Jeb Bush, whose name is hardly magic), Trump does well. Matched against a well-known, well-regarded candidate, he fares rather poorly.
To be sure, Romney is particularly well-known and liked in New Hampshire. He has run twice in that state’s primary (winning once and finishing second the other time) and has long owned a vacation home in the state. Still, the fact that Romney doubles Trump’s number among likely primary voters suggests that Trump isn’t invincible in New Hampshire.
The problem for those who would like to see Trump stumble is, of course, that Romney isn’t running. Trump’s closest rivals according to New Hampshire polls — Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Ben Carson — are neither as well known nor as well liked as Romney.
To be sure, they will become better known during the next two months. But it’s unlikely that any of them will become the clear heir to the Romney vote. Cruz and Carson probably don’t appeal much to Romney voters. Rubio ( at 12 percent in New Hampshire) might, but he will have to compete with Jeb Bush (7.6 percent), Chris Christie (5.8), John Kasich (7.2), and perhaps Carly Fiorina (4.2) for this cohort. And the “center” portion of Romney’s center-right coalition may be out of Rubio’s reach in New Hampshire.
Moreover, although Trump is the anti-Romney in some respects, there are commonalities. Both are successful businessmen who come across as “center-right,” albeit in different ways. Thus, Trump himself can expect to pick up a portion of the 31 percent that told pollsters they would vote for Mitt.
What’s my conclusion? Trump is clearly ahead in New Hampshire and should be considered the favorite there. But his support probably isn’t as solid as many suppose, and plenty of time remians for a center-right candidate to distinguish himself (I don’t see Carly doing this) from the pack in the view of New Hampshire voters. Such a candidate could defeat Trump in the Granite State.