Politics & Policy

Reminder: Four Years Ago Michele Bachmann Was Getting the Same Share of the Polls Donald Trump Is Now

(Alex Wong/Getty)

Donald Trump has surged to the top of at least two national polls in the race for the 2016 GOP nomination. The real-estate mogul isn’t quite at the top of the most accurate, human-gathered surveys, but he’s getting respectable numbers in the key states of Iowa and New Hampshire.

So, time to book your ticket to see Trump tell President Obama he’s fired on January 20, 2017? Not quite. The last fight for the GOP nomination, in 2012, saw plenty of candidates rise to competitiveness in the polls, even substantial leads — an accomplishment Trump still can only dream of — before collapsing into irrelevance.

On this date four long years ago, Michele Bachman was beginning her ascent in the polls. She peaked at 14 percent on July 19, 2011, according to the RealClearPolitics average (which I’ll use throughout), good enough for second, though well behind the clear front-runner, Mitt Romney, who was polling in the 20s. That infamous Newsweek hit job? The issue was dated August 15 . . . by which time she had already fallen to around 10 percent, never to recover.

Then came the Perry surge: Many hoped the Texas governor’s summer announcement finally offered voters the competent, experienced, and bona fide conservative executive who could beat Mitt Romney. Perry hit 31.8 percent in mid September—twice Trump’s current showing, albeit in a smaller field—before, well: “Oops.”

Next up was Herman Cain. On the back of his 9-9-9 tax plan, the pizza man extraordinaire rocketed all the way to a dead heat with Romney by October 20, at 26 percent. Cain held strong for a solid month before he was brought down by a series of allegations of sexual impropriety. Cain bowed out of the race the first week of December — complete with a two-minute long quote pulled from Pokémon: The First Movie:

After Cain’s collapse, Newt Gingrich rode a series of lively debate performances into the lead. By mid November he was tied with Romney at 22 percent; by mid December, he was at nearly 35 percent, easily leading Romney. But then Newt’s support rapidly eroded: The former speaker finished fourth in Iowa and fifth in New Hampshire, and was thought finished.

Toward the end of January, Newt came back to life, hitting the top of the polls once more, in the low 30s. But then there were the moon colonies and buckets of Romney negative ads before the Florida primary, and Newt’s support cratered, all the way down to around 15 percent by mid February . . . or about where Trump stands as of this writing. (Although, again, Trump faces a much bigger field.)

#related#And that wasn’t all: One more candidate was to have his shot at the lead, Rick Santorum. The former Pennsylvania senator surged to first place in the run-up to Super Tuesday on March 6, 2012, with 35 percent of the RCP national average. Even Ron Paul had his moments: The Texas congressman hovered just under 10 percent support throughout most of 2011, and then drew about 15 percent support for most of 2012, but never had a shot at the nomination.

So relax everyone: The Donald is surging, sure, but if the last presidential cycle taught us anything, it’s that these surges don’t last long. A number of candidates have already seen polling bumps from their campaign announcements and then rapid trips back down to earth.

Trump’s numbers are probably strong enough to get him on a debate stage in August — a top priority for hopefuls this cycle — but the odds this moment will last look to be very long indeed.

— Mark Antonio Wright is an intern at National Review.

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