Donald Trump has gained political strength since the Paris terrorist attacks last Friday, according to the polls.
Trump’s gains show him once again confounding Beltway wisdom, where the widespread view was that such a grave event would lead voters to look toward White House candidates who are purportedly more mature and sophisticated than the erstwhile star of “The Apprentice.”
Instead, it seems that Republican voters have found themselves drawn to Trump’s emphatic rhetoric.
“You have voters who are saying loudly and clearly that they want a strong leader to run our country, and that leader is Mr. Trump,” the business mogul’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, told The Hill.
“Some of the other candidates didn’t have that vision. … They have not had the foresight to predict these problems.”
“Trump makes up for his shortcomings with his force of personality,” said one Republican strategist in New Hampshire who did not want to be identified but is not working for any of Trump’s presidential rivals.
Many Republican voters seem to welcome Trump’s bravado after last week’s assault on French civilians that left 129 people dead. The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the massacre.
In a WBUR poll of Republican voters in New Hampshire conducted just after the attacks, Trump’s support had risen 4 points from a similar poll released at the start of this month, and he was ahead of his closet rival, retired surgeon Ben Carson, by a 2-1 margin.
A poll conducted by Florida Atlantic University also found Trump way ahead of his Republican competitors in the Sunshine State. He scored 36 percent support, exactly twice the level of backing secured by second-placed Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
And Trump’s strength isn’t just showing up in state-level “horse race” polls.
A Reuters poll on Tuesday asked voters which of the candidates was best-suited to deal with the threat of terrorism. Among Republican voters, 36 percent opted for Trump.
The next most popular response was “none,” at 17 percent. Rubio was again in second place in the survey among actual candidates, but he lagged Trump by 20 percentage points.
Voters’ views may yet shift as they absorb the implications of the Paris atrocity. But for now, Trump’s rhetoric seems to be striking a chord.
In radio ads released Wednesday in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina — which hold the first three contests in the presidential nomination process — Trump insists, “We must address Islamic terrorism and protect our country first.
I will lead by example, as I always have, by vowing to defeat ISIS, stop illegal immigration and the Syrian refugee program, secure our border and bring real change to Washington.”
Even Trump skeptics acknowledge that this style has populist appeal at moments of public anxiety.
The next Republican debate is almost a month away — scheduled for Dec. 15 in Nevada — and beyond that, there is only one more clash set to take place before the Iowa caucuses at the start of February.
That means Trump’s rivals may need to find other ways to knock him off his perch.