Trump's lead widens despite his insults

Despite another week of controversy, the Trump juggernaut continues to roll along undaunted. The abrasive billionaire will enter the Christmas and New Year period with his largest-ever lead over the rest of the Republican field, according to new polls released on Wednesday.

The latest CNN/ORC poll of Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters shows Mr Donald Trump polling 39 per cent, more than twice the figure for the second- placed candidate, Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Despite slipping behind the poll leader, Mr Cruz is starting to pull away from the rest of the pack. He now has the support of 18 per cent of those polled.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson are tied for third with 10 per cent, with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and former Florida governor Jeb Bush languishing at 5, 4 and 3 per cent respectively.

The polls, which come after the Republican debate in Las Vegas last week, show support starting to consolidate on the top four with just over a month before primary voting begins. They now have the support of 77 per cent of registered Republican voters and the top two have 57 per cent - the most dominant numbers for the top Republican candidates in the six months since the campaign began in earnest.

Still, the big story is Mr Trump opening up the gap between him and the rest of the Republican field. This despite another controversial week for his campaign.

For the past few days, much of the media attention has been focused on a feud between him and the Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton after he used a vulgarity in an attack on her.

At a rally on Monday, he said Mrs Clinton had been "schlonged" by President Barack Obama during the 2008 election primary, using a term derived from a vulgar Yiddish word for a penis. He also mocked her for taking a "disgusting" bathroom break during the Democratic debate last Saturday.

Mrs Clinton hit back a day later in an interview in Iowa, denouncing Mr Trump's bigotry.

"Nothing really surprises me anymore. I don't know that he has any boundaries at all. His bigotry, his bluster, his bullying have become his campaign. And he has to keep sort of upping the stakes and going even further," she said.

He also came under attack from Mr Bush, who is now positioning himself as the anti-Trump candidate in the Republican field.

Yet, the latest kerfuffle is not expected to dent Mr Trump's popularity. Just why he can get away with insults no other candidate would dare utter is a matter of much discussion.

Professor Patricia Williams of the Columbia University School of Law argued in the liberal magazine The Nation this week that part of his strategy is to craft his insults as an inside joke, thereby portraying those who take offence as outsiders who don't get it.

"His play with the tropes of racism, nativism, and misogyny operate as theatrical, norm-building disavowals of equality and integration, even as they seem to offer a promise that we could all be in on the joke if only you, the humourless ones, would join him in the open democracy of just a harmless josh. This is undoubtedly what (Russian President Vladimir) Putin gets when he calls Trump 'brilliant'," she said.

Mr Scott Adams, the man behind the Dilbert comics, posits that Mr Trump succeeds because he taps into voters' irrational tendencies.

He wrote on his blog: "You know Trump's babbling, repetitive, content-free, happy-talk? Every bit of it is engineered persuasion. While the other candidates talk statistics and reason, Trump speaks to your emotions."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 25, 2015, with the headline 'Trump's lead widens despite his insults'. Print Edition | Subscribe