Trump as Your Drunk Neighbor

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Fallows flags a great new video that’s just starting to go viral:

That drunk neighbor is still leading the GOP race by a long shot, according to new numbers today from Public Policy Polling: Trump 27, Carson 17, Rubio 13, Bush 10. Allahpundit acknowledges that “only once since the second GOP debate had [Trump] reached as high as 26 percent in a national poll,” but he sees trouble for Trump under the surface:

He’s had a 14 point drop in his net favorability rating over the last month from +26 at 56/30 to now just +12 at 50/38. And he’s lost ground in head to head match ups with the other leading GOP contenders. The only one he leads is Bush by 20 points at 56/36, although even that is down from his 25 point advantage at 59/34 last time. Last month he led Rubio (50/42) and Fiorina (48/41) in head to heads, now he trails them 50/43 and 47/45 respectively. And what was already a 49/43 deficit to Carson one on one has now grown to 52/41.

But perhaps the worst blow for Trump may be that GOP voters don’t think he’s as rich as he says is. Only 30% believe his net worth is over even 5 billion dollars to 55% who think it’s below that threshold. For the most part people aren’t buying his 10 billion dollar claim.

I’ve been watching his numbers in PPP’s head-to-head contests for weeks on the theory that they probably tell us more about Trump’s real strength in the race than even the topline numbers do. At some point the primaries will in fact become a two- or three-candidate race and voters who are backing other candidates right now or are otherwise undecided will have to make a choice. If forced to choose between Trump and Rubio or Trump and Fiorina, will they stick with the guy who’s currently leading the polls?

A PPP poll of North Carolina in August showed Trump trailing numerous Republican rivals head-to-head even though he led the overall field at the time. But then, a few weeks later, things had changed: Trump actually led various competitors head to head in PPP’s national poll of September 1st, suggesting that GOP voters really were starting to think of him as a viable nominee even after the field inevitably winnowed.

Today’s poll turns all of that around, placing Trump behind Carson, Rubio, and Fiorina, with only sad-sack Jeb Bush still less attractive to GOP voters than Trump is when given a binary choice.

But the billionaire has barely spent any money:

Chris Cillizza is astounded by that low number:

Trump has been the dominant force in the Republican presidential race for, at least, the past four months. (He officially became a candidate June 16.)  On any given Sunday, he is appearing on or phoning into some -- if not all -- of the Sunday talk shows. According to Facebook's new Signal interface, Trump is responsible for 80 percent (or more) of the conversation around the 2016 presidential race on any given day. The first two Republican debates netted 24 million and 23 million viewers, respectively -- totals that Trump, rightly, attributes to his presence in the race.

All of that attention has catapulted Trump to the top of virtually every national and early-state poll released in the last few months -- all without Trump ever having to dip into his pocket in any meaningful way. … Remember that Trump, as recently as August, pledged that he would spend as much as $1 billion of his own money on the campaign; “I make $400 million a year, so what difference does it make,” he said in response to reporters' questions at the Iowa State Fair.

Trump is the living, breathing example of publicity that you just can’t buy. And, to his credit, he’s acknowledged as much. Trump told the New York Times last month that he had planned to spend $15 million on campaign ads over the summer but decided not to since he was getting wall-to-wall media coverage without spending a dime.