For most of his Republican rivals, Donald Trump’s surge in the polls in the 2016 U.S. presidential nomination fight is like a summer squall that will eventually blow itself out.
There was no general sense of panic among the candidates over opinion polls that showed support growing for the real estate mogul, whose candidacy thus far has been notable for his anti-immigrant stance and bare-knuckled tactics.
Candidates in general are practicing a strategy to condemn him when necessary, criticizing him for example for belittling the military service of Senator John McCain, a former Vietnam prisoner of war, but otherwise sticking with their own game plans for attracting support from Republican voters.
“These things ebb and flow, and it’s July” said an adviser to Republican Scott Walker. “National polls don’t matter unless you’re trying to get into a debate.”
A Reuters/Ipsos tracking poll on Tuesday found Donald Trump winning the support of 17 percent of Republicans, effectively tied for the lead with his nearest rival, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush at 18 percent. Trump led Bush by eight percentage points a week ago.
With Trump having offered no detailed vision for a Trump presidency, but instead offering a series of overheated statements and bragging about his wealth, there is an expectation among Republican leaders that Trump will tumble in much the same way a variety of Republican candidates fell in 2012, from Michele Bachmann to Herman Cain.
“I don’t think it’s anything that has the ability to be sustained,” said a Republican strategist who has advised Jeb Bush in the past when asked about Trump’s showing.
But there are also concerns at how much damage Trump could do to efforts to appeal to minority voters and win the White House in 2016 after losses in 2008 and 2012.
Speaking about Trump at a campaign event on Tuesday in Spartanburg, South Carolina, Bush said that people are right to be frustrated with government but that “if we embrace this language of divisiveness and ugliness, we’ll never win.”
On Tuesday, Trump held a rally in South Carolina, home state of Lindsey Graham, a Republican senator who is a presidential candidate, and used it to rail against Graham.
Graham had called Trump a “jackass” for criticizing McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee. Trump read out Graham’s cell phone number during the rally.
“Donald Trump continues to show hourly that he is ill-prepared to be commander in chief,” said Graham campaign manager Christian Ferry.
Despite Trump’s histrionics, Republican professionals believe his support will not fall off enough to deny him a spot at the party’s first presidential debate, on Aug. 6 in Cleveland.
The 10 candidates who register the most support among an average of national polls will get to compete in the event.
The Republican contest has so far been a civil affair with candidates generally declining to attack each other and instead focusing on what they would do for the country.
Having Trump on the debate stage introduces an air of unpredictability to the event.
Republican strategist Scott Reed said candidates will need to come up with a way to handle Trump at the debate.
“He’s going to be on the stage and the other candidates are going to have to have a Trump strategy,” he said. “The strategy needs to be to push back on the bully.”