Trump gains support after derisive comments

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The condemnation from Republicans officials for Donald Trump over his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the country has been near-universal, with party leaders from House Speaker Paul Ryan to former Vice President Dick Cheney rushing to denounce him. But the polls released since his remarks on Monday show him gaining strength with GOP voters.

A FOX News poll conducted Sunday through Tuesday shows Trump with a commanding lead in the important early voting state South Carolina, taking 35 percent support to the runner-up Ben Carson’s 15 percent. More tellingly, the pollsters actually found an 8 percent uptick in Trump’s support in the two days after his anti-Muslim rhetoric received blanket news coverage.

Meanwhile, a poll conducted by Zogby Analytics shows Trump running away with the GOP nomination if it were held today, two days after he made his remarks. The increasingly controversial billionaire leads by 25 points, with support that exceeds the combined support of the next three closest rivals, Ben Carson, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.

Trump-Sense-FeatureThe poll was conducted entirely after Trump’s remarks were made public. And while some have disputed the methodology, Zogby’s poll showed Trump’s support at the highest levels the firm has ever measured—in other words, a clear trendline in Trump’s favor after his comments.

There are signs beyond Trump’s own poll numbers showing that his remarks aren’t hurting him with the GOP base. A PulsePoll conducted by Purple Strategies showed that almost two-thirds of Republican voters surveyed agreed with Trump’s position. Meanwhile, the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling tested GOP views on Trump’s rhetoric on Muslims and found that a plurality supported him on the issue.

It’s possible that more nuanced data will emerge in the next few days showing that GOP voters are in fact becoming increasingly wary of Trump—which is clearly the party establishment’s hope, considering the reproving chorus directed at Trump from the GOP elite. Trump’s improved numbers come just hours after a Politico story quoting GOP congressional insiders aired fears of what a bombastic, potentially radioactive Trump nomination could do to the party’s congressional majority in downballot races.

But for now, the pattern in the GOP nomination race that’s held since July is intact. Donald Trump creates controversy by offending a large group of people, earns widespread condemnation from GOP leaders, triggers speculation from pundits that this time, he’s finally gone too far for GOP voters to follow him … and then sees improved polling showing a growing and dominant lead.

If there’s a difference this time, it’s that GOP leaders are far more strident in their pushback against Trump. Dick Cheney said it “goes against everything we stand for.” “This is not conservatism,” Paul Ryan insisted. Jeb Bush, with more than a whiff of desperation, stated, “I can guarantee Donald Trump won’t be the nominee.”

That used to be conventional wisdom. But as the GOP party elders scramble to define conservatism on their own terms, the party base has a different idea. And they look increasingly to give Trump the final say on what conservatism means in America.