US Elections 2016

Trump in free fall

Mr Trump at a campaign rally in Altoona, Pennsylvania, last Friday. Last week, he called President Obama the "founder" of ISIS, later adding Mrs Clinton as its co-founder, despite the absurdity of the claim.
Mr Trump at a campaign rally in Altoona, Pennsylvania, last Friday. Last week, he called President Obama the "founder" of ISIS, later adding Mrs Clinton as its co-founder, despite the absurdity of the claim.PHOTO: REUTERS

Support for him plummeting in wake of controversial statements

The presidential campaign of Republican candidate Donald Trump appears to be in free fall, at least at the moment.

The cover of the latest issue of Time magazine says it all. It depicts an image of his face dripping like butter left on a hot stove. The headline is one word: Meltdown.

As controversial statements continued to roll off his tongue last week, a growing number of Americans have become increasingly embarrassed, if not downright alarmed, by the prospect of a President Trump.

Earlier last week, he made comments about the United States Constitution's Second Amendment, which guarantees a "right to bear arms", that sounded like a call to National Rifle Association members to train their guns on his Democratic opponent, Mrs Hillary Clinton.

Last Wednesday, he called President Barack Obama the "founder" of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), later adding Mrs Clinton as its co-founder, despite the absurdity of the claim.

RISK OF BIG LOSS

We believe that Donald Trump's divisiveness, recklessness, incompetence and record-breaking unpopularity risk turning this election into a Democratic landslide.

MORE THAN 70 INFLUENTIAL REPUBLICANS, in a letter to Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus asking the party to stop spending money on Mr Trump's campaign.

Such pronouncements, combined with earlier provocative remarks about Hispanics, Muslims, women, the parents of a war hero, the disabled and statements that appeared that he was cosying up to Russia, have led to his numbers in pre-election polls plummeting just two weeks after some showed him edging ahead.

Despite her own unpopularity with many voters, a list of 19 surveys, from Bloomberg to the Rasmussen Reports, had Mrs Clinton leading the popular vote as of Friday. Even the latest poll by the right-leaning Fox News network showed her with a substantial 10-point lead - 49 to 39 per cent - over Mr Trump.

There is little hope for the man behind the controversial Trump College in the so-called Electoral College either. The United States actually chooses a president based on the number of electoral votes a candidate wins. Each of the 50 states is allotted a number of electoral votes roughly based on the size of its congressional delegation.

A candidate needs a majority of 270 of the total 538 electoral votes to win the presidency. Thus, candidates often campaign in states with significant electoral votes that can go either party's way. And the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll released on Friday showed Mrs Clinton widening her lead in such key swing states.

In North Carolina, which went Republican all but twice in the last half century, including in the last election in 2012, the poll showed her leading 48 to 39 per cent. In Virginia, where Mrs Clinton's running mate, Mr Tim Caine, is a senator, she was ahead 46 to 33 per cent.

The poll also showed Mrs Clinton up 46 to 32 per cent in Colorado, and 44 to 39 per cent in all-important Florida.

In Ohio, the same poll last Wednesday put Mrs Clinton ahead of Mr Trump by 5 per cent. The state is largely seen as a bellwether because no Republican has ever moved into the White House without winning it.

Ohio's popular Republican governor John Kasich's disdain for Mr Trump is so strong that he refused to attend his party's national nominating convention last month even though it was held in Cleveland in Ohio, although he has not yet said how he will vote in November.

More and more Republicans, it would appear, are also increasingly wary about their candidate.

The latest Reuters/Ipsos poll taken on Aug 5-8 showed that nearly one-fifth of 396 registered Republicans said they want Mr Trump to drop out of the presidential race. Another 10 per cent said they "don't know" whether the Republican nominee should or not.

Worried that a big loss for their presidential candidate in the Nov 8 general election could hurt their party candidates in other races, more than 70 influential Republicans signed a letter to Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus asking the party to stop spending money on Mr Trump's campaign and funnel it to November's congressional races instead.

"We believe that Donald Trump's divisiveness, recklessness, incompetence and record-breaking unpopularity risk turning this election into a Democratic landslide," the letter said, according to the Politico newspaper last week.

Earlier last week, 50 prominent Republican national security officials, including a former CIA director, released an open letter in which they called Mr Trump unqualified to lead the country and said he would be "the most reckless president in American history".

Faced with the stinging criticisms, sinking poll numbers and loss of party support, the usually boastful candidate actually admitted he could lose the very election he predicted he would win big at the Republican National Convention just three weeks ago.

In an interview with CNBC in which he said he would not change the course of his campaign, he then added: "At the end, it's either going to work or I'm going to, you know, I'm going to have a very, very nice long vacation."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 14, 2016, with the headline 'Trump in free fall '. Print Edition | Subscribe