Donald Trump, the man none of the pundits took seriously as a presidential candidate, is sitting comfortably in second place, on the shoulder of the leader, in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, according to the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.
Trump is tied at 17% with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and just behind former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at 21% among Republican primary voters, according to the poll published Thursday. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points for the full sample.
The rise of Trump, a television personality, wealthy businessman, real-estate agent, developer and owner of beauty pageants, is a testament to the power of media publicity and his pugnacious personality, as well as to the weakness of the Republican field of at least a dozen possible presidential aspirants.
Most polls show an upper echelon of about four serious contenders, including Romney, Huckabee, former Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, though none has been able to break away. Trump was nestled in the second tier.
But that was before he went on the media offensive, relaunching questions about whether President Obama was born in Hawaii or outside of the country, making him constitutionally ineligible to be president. Most people, including Republicans, agree that Obama has proved that he was born in Hawaii by releasing birth documents. But that has not stopped the issue from continuing to have traction, particularly among the more conservative of the Republicans.
“I am saying I want to see the birth certificate,” Trump said on Thursday in an interview with Meredith Vieira on “Today.” The developer then went on to sound the same themes he has shouted in recent weeks from almost all available cable shows and television networks.
“It’s very simple. I want to see the birth certificate,” he repeated. “How come his own family doesn’t know which hospital he was born in? How come -- forget about birth certificates. Let’s say there’s no birth certificate. How come in the hospital itself, OK? This is one of the … in the hospital itself, there’s no records of his birth. In other words, it doesn’t say how much they paid, where is the doctor, here’s your room bill.”
Trump went on to say he has sent investigators to Hawaii to search out more information. “Absolutely,” he told Vieira. “And they cannot believe what they’re finding. And I’m serious.”
Trump may be serious, but a Gallup poll on Thursday showed that Americans had mixed opinions about him as a presidential candidate. According to the poll, 43% said they had a favorable opinion and 47% had an unfavorable one. Trump's public image is about the same as in September 1999, when Trump also flirted with a presidential run, then on a third-party ticket. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
This time around, Trump is pitching to the more conservative elements of the Republican Party (the birthers, a term that Trump eschews). The WSJ/NBC poll shows that Trump has risen to No. 1 among those who call themselves supporters of the “tea party” movement with 20%. Romney is at 17%, and Palin, is at 12%, thanks to her core of supporters. Overall, Palin, the party’s former vice presidential candidate, is supported by just 10%, a continuation of her slide in recent polls.
In the interview, Trump also played other cards likely to appeal to conservatives. For example, he boasted that he was more militaristic than Obama.
“There’s nobody more militaristic than me, but it’s also called attack the right target,” said Trump, who went on to urge the United States to consider taking over Iraq’s oil fields to keep the oil away from Iran.
His latest surge to near the top of the GOP pack hasn’t diminished Trump’s feelings about himself, either.
“I know this. I will be better than anybody. I will do the best job,” Trump said. “If I decide to run, I will do the best job. I will be best for this country. And, you may say, ‘Oh, gee, that doesn't sound like George Washington.’
“Well, guess what?” Trump said. “Before George Washington ran, he didn't sound like George Washington either.”