In recent primary history, no one underscores that point more dramatically than Giuliani.
The combative former New York City mayor dominated national polling in the early stages of the 2008 Republican presidential race as thoroughly as any recent contender in either party — and far more than Trump is doing now.
Through 2007, Giuliani led in all eight national ABC/Washington Post surveys, according to a compilation of primary polls from that year collected by PollingReport.com. While Trump has reached support of about 25 percent in several recent national polls, Giuliani exceeded 30 percent six times in the ABC/Washington Post surveys that year. In February 2007, Giuliani peaked at 53 percent, vastly more than any GOP contender has marshaled at any point in this race.
That poll wasn't unique. Giuliani also led in all 21 USA Today/Gallup polls through 2007, according to the PollingReport.com compilation. Giuliani's support exceeded 30 percent in 17 of those 21 polls, peaking at 49 percent in March; he still attracted 34 percent as late as November 2007. Similarly, Giuliani led in all ten CNN/ORC polls through 2007. The Republican polling firm American Research Group placed Giuliani ahead in nine consecutive national surveys from February through November 2007.
"Until voters start to make hard choices "¦ it's really just a popularity contest at the moment." — David Carney, political strategist
Giuliani also led in Quinnipiac University national polls in February, April, June, August, and October, and Pew Research Center polls in March, April, July, September, and October. Three national NBC/Wall Street Journal polls in September and November of 2007 showed him with at least twice as much support as any rival.
Meanwhile, John McCain, the eventual nominee, languished in these national polls through 2007. With his campaign staff in turmoil and his finances squeezed, McCain did not attract support from more than 20 percent of Republicans in USA Today/Gallup national polls from June 2007 through January 2008. In the ABC/Washington Post poll, McCain did not exceed 19 percent from July through December 2007.
Through in the second half of 2007, McCain in national surveys usually trailed not only Giuliani but also former Sen. Fred Thompson — who also ultimately failed to win a single primary. In a December 2007 ABC/Washington Post survey, McCain placed fifth, behind not only Giuliani and Thompson but also Mitt Romney and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, the two men who proved his most serious rivals once the voting started.
Voters shuffled this deck very quickly once they actually cast ballots. Weighed down by his liberal positions on social issues, Giuliani did not seriously contest the kickoff Iowa caucus that Huckabee won. Giuliani then faded to fourth in a New Hampshire primary captured by a revivified McCain. The former New York mayor put all his remaining chips into the Florida primary but lost badly there too and was soon out of the race. With Thompson fading as well, McCain eventually scored a fairly easy victory over Huckabee, the other finalist in the contest.