Have we witnessed the first evidence of a chink in Donald Trump’s venerable campaign armor?
Trump entered the GOP Presidential Nomination race and vaulted from laughable entrant in June of 2015 to front-runner within a little over 30 days. Establishment Republicans and the media attacked Trump from the beginning. It took months of sustained front-runner status for them to conclude that he was going to stay in the race, and that his motivation wasnt publicity, as first speculated.
Despite making numerous statements that the establishment touted as campaign ending, he continued to hold a steady national lead among the GOP field. Trump appeared immune to attacks, blunders and condemnation. The one place that he was not universally condemned however was in conservative talk radio.
Four people specifically avoided the Oklahoma Land Rush to stop Trump. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, and Laura Ingraham maintained an even keeled assessment of Trump. They neither endorsed, nor condemned him, but analyzed his ability to dominate media cycles, drown out fellow candidates, and silence critics while taking the fight to his opponents. The result was Trump had top cover within the listening audience, to make his case. Many gave him the benefit of the doubt, and so his support base grew within conservative ranks, but also among independents and some democrat demographics, such as blue-collar workers. Trumps honeymoon with the above four talk radio hosts began to erode in December.
When Ted Cruzs numbers began to steadily rise in Iowa and nationally in early November, Trump moved in to put him down, as he had with Bush in the summer, and Carson in the fall. This time the talk radio reaction was different. The big fourdid not provide nearly the top cover that they had in previous months. They began to question Trump, and at times sided with Ted Cruz. Mark Levin became openly critical, condemning the ludicrous Trump charge that Cruz was ineligible to run for president for example.
The impactmay have played out in Iowa, where Trump lost to Ted Cruz by three points, despite the polls, including entrance polls, predictinga Trump victory.
Both Cruz and Rubio exceeded polling expectations in Iowa, in the highest GOP turnout in history. Trump sagged! Clearly both Cruz and Rubio had strong ground games, which Trumps campaign did not. That likely played a factor as well, but the impact of conservative talk radio on this election should not be underestimated.
The Establishment GOP is reaping the consequences from years of ignoring the will of its base. Rush Limbaugh led the analysisexposing the betrayal. Donald Trump benefited from a retaliatory anger, but the bloom may be off the conservative media rose, and if so, only time will tell if he can capture the nomination without it.