Four problems with the 'winnowing' theory of Trump's downfall

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Jeb Bush's decision to drop out of the presidential after a dismal fourth-place finish in South Carolina sped up a process that Republican elites have long been praying for: a winnowing of the field that could thwart the candidacy of Donald Trump.

The theory is that Trump, who notched his second consecutive primary victory on Saturday, is a factional candidate with a "hard ceiling" of support limited to the one-third of the party. While that has propelled him to victory in crowded field in New Hampshire and South Carolina, if other candidates quit, argue some anti-Trump conservatives, those voters will consolidate behind an alternative and soundly defeat the blustery billionaire for the nomination.

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Trump, however, bristled at that argument during his victory speech Saturday night.

"A number of the pundits said, 'Well, if a couple of the other candidates dropped out, if you add their scores together it's going to equal Trump,'" he said in a mocking tone. "But these geniuses -- they don't understand that as people drop out I'm going to get a lot of those votes also. You don't just add them together."

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Four problems with the 'winnowing' theory of Trump's downfall

Kid Rock

Kid Rock showed his support for the presidential hopeful in an interview with Rolling Stone, saying he's "digging Trump." He also added, "Let the motherf---ing business guy run it like a f---ing business. And his campaign has been entertaining as shit."

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Mike Tyson
 

The former heavyweight champion announced that he would endorse Trump while appearing on HuffPost Live back in October of 2015. "He should be president of the United States," Tyson said. 

As for what Trump has said about immigration, Tyson said the words were "crude" and someone could work with him on the delivery of his message.

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Stephen Baldwin


Baldwin, who was fired by Trump on two different seasons of "The Celebrity Apprentice," said during an interview with Don Lemon on an episode of "CNN Tonight" that Trump would make a "great" president "because he's not a politician, and he doesn't care what anybody thinks."  

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Gary Busey

The actor endorsed Trump back in 2011, even after being fired from season four of "The Celebrity Apprentice," and offered his praise for the presidential hopeful again recently. "He's a great guy. He's sharp. He's fast," he told Fox411. "He can change the country after the last eight years."  

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Dennis Rodman

The retired pro-basketball player tweeted: "@realDonaldTrump has been a great friend for many years. We don't need another politician, we need a businessman like Mr. Trump! Trump 2016." He was fired from season two of "The Celebrity Apprentice." 

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Lou Ferrigno

When asked by TMZ for his thoughts on Trump, the actor and former bodybuilder said, "I hope Donald goes all the way." He was also fired from a season of "The Celebrity Apprentice." 

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Hulk Hogan

TMZ asked Hogan which 2016 Republican presidential candidate he would want to face in the ring, but instead of answering the question, he said he'd want to be Trump's running mate. 

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Ted Nugent 

The musician wrote an article for WorldNetDaily in which he said, "[Trump] should be given the Medal of Freedom for speaking his mind in such a bold, honest, and straightforward manner."

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Tila Tequila 

The model and reality star posted a video on YouTube expressing her support for Trump.

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Wayne Newton

The Las Vegas entertainer announced his support on "Fox and Friends," “I love Donald, and he would make a great president,” he said. But he also voiced his support for other hopefuls, such as Carly Fiorina, Jeb Bush, and Ben Carson. 

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Willie Robertson

The businessman and star of A&E’s “Duck Dynasty” supported Trump at a rally in Oklahoma last year, where he was invited up on stage. He officially announced his endorsement in January. 

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Jesse Ventura 

Jesse Ventura

The former pro wrestler, former Minnesota governor, and actor was speaking with previous Trump staffer Roger Stone for "Off the Grid," when Ventura said, "I shocked my staff today. I came in and said, ‘You know what, as far as the Republicans are concerned, I hope Trump wins.'" Though he also added, "Now I’m not a Republican — I’m not a Democrat either — so ultimately, I’d like somebody else to win overall.”

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Charlie Sheen 

After initially calling Trump a "shame pile of idiocy" in a tweet, Sheen had a change of heart a month later and tweeted that he'd be Trump's "VP in a heartbeat!"

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Ivana Trump

The socialite held a luncheon in support of her ex-husband. 

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Mike Ditka

The retired NFL coach said of Trump, "I think that he has the fire in his belly to make America great again and probably do it the right way," in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times. 

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Terrell Owens 

The retired NFL wide receiver told TMZ Sports, "This may be what the country needs and Trump... He’s a guy who won’t put up with B.S. and has what it takes to change how government is run." He appeared on the most recent season of "The Celebrity Apprentice."   

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Azealia Banks

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Jesse James 

James, a TV personality and founder of West Coast Choppers, posted a lengthy Facebook message in January supporting his former "Celebrity Apprentice" boss. He said:

 "Ive met a lot of people in life and I have found it best to form opinions about them by actually meeting them in person. ... What I personally observed is a man that is perfect suited to run this country. ... One thing you know about me is Good or bad I will always tell it like it is. This guy is the Real Deal, and will Make America Great Again."

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Trump has a point, and a close examination of Republican voter data shows that the "winnowing" theory has four serious flaws.

1. It's unclear Trump loses a three-person race

An Economist/YouGov national survey released last week tested the theory that Trump would suffer in a three-person race with his two chief rivals. It found Trump winning with 46 percent of the vote, ahead of Marco Rubio with 28 percent and Ted Cruz with 26 percent.

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Republican strategist Patrick Ruffini said the poll called into question the theory.

Corroborating that finding, an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll in January found Trump leading with 40 percent to Cruz's 31 percent and Rubio's 26 percent.

Another survey, by Public Policy Polling that was released in early February, offered a modicum of hope for the winnowing theory. It found Rubio leading narrowly with 34 percent to Trump's 33 percent and Cruz's 25 percent in a three-candidate field.

With Rubio and Cruz well-funded for the long haul, there is scant expectation that the current field will narrow to fewer than three candidates very soon. But even a two-person race is not quite guaranteed to produce a Trump defeat. The NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found Trump losing to Cruz by a margin of 43 to 51 percent in a head-to-head match, but leading Rubio by a margin of 52 to 45 percent.

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Cruz and Rubio have sparred in recent weeks over who is better positioned to beat Trump once the field shrinks further.

"Donald Trump is a candidate unlike any we've ever seen before. He has a passionate, committed base of supporters, but he's got a ceiling -- between 60 and 70 percent of Republican primary voters recognize that Donald is not the best candidate to go head-to-head with Hillary Clinton," Cruz told reporters Monday in Las Vegas. "I'm the only candidate who can beat Donald Trump."

2. Trump's 'hard ceiling' is overrated

The Cruz and Rubio campaigns have, in recent days, made the case that Trump has run up against his polling ceiling.

"Donald Trump's electoral ceiling is in the mid 30s," Rubio campaign manager Terry Sullivan wrote in a memo distributed on Sunday after the South Carolina primary. "Simply put, Donald Trump can never get to 50 percent and only will continue as a front-runner as long as the field is crowded."

At a Monday rally in Las Vegas, Cruz concurred.

"Donald Trump is a candidate unlike any we've ever seen before. He has a passionate, committed base of supporters, but he's got a ceiling -- between 60 and 70 percent of Republican primary voters recognize that Donald is not the best candidate to go head-to-head with Hillary Clinton," Cruz said.

But it's far from clear that Trump has a hard ceiling. Some Republican operatives who have no love for Trump, such as Ruffini and Stuart Stevens, a strategist for Mitt Romney's 2012 campaign, have cast doubt on the "ceiling" theory.

One way to test this, pollsters say, is to gauge what percentage of voters could see themselves supporting a candidate.

A NBC/Wall Street Journal survey in January found that 65 percent of likely Republican voters could see themselves supporting Trump, a staggering jump from the 23 percent of voters who did last March, before he announced his presidential run. Cruz and Rubio fared modestly better, at 71 percent and 67 percent, respectively.

"The longer Donald Trump stays in the race, the more likely GOP voters are willing to vote for him," Republican pollster Frank Luntz tweeted in response to that statistic.

By contrast, in January 2012, 59 percent of Republicans saw Romney, who went on to win the nomination, as "acceptable," according to Gallup.

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Four problems with the 'winnowing' theory of Trump's downfall
CHARLESTON, WV - MAY 05: Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during his rally at the Charleston Civic Center on May 5, 2016 in Charleston, West Virginia. Trump became the Republican presumptive nominee following his landslide win in indiana on Tuesday.(Photo by Mark Lyons/Getty Images)
Donald Trump, president and chief executive of Trump Organization Inc. and 2016 Republican presidential candidate, gestures to attendees during a campaign event in Evansville, Indiana, U.S., on Thursday, April 28, 2016. Trump said he's campaigning hard to win Tuesday's presidential primary in Indiana and that if he prevails, his party's nomination contest will be 'over.' Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
TAMPA, FL - MARCH 14: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a town hall meeting on March 14, 2016 at the Tampa Convention Center in Tampa , Florida. Trump is campaigning ahead of the Florida primary on March 15. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OH- MARCH 13: Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses his campaign supporters during a campaign rally at the Savannah Center March 13, 2016, in Cincinnati, Ohio. Trump continue to campaign before Ohio March 15th primary day. (Photo by John Sommers II/Getty Images)
PALM BEACH, FL - MARCH 15: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a primary night event at the Mar-A-Lago Club's Donald J. Trump Ballroom March 15, 2016 in Palm Beach, Florida. Trump won the state of Florida and Ohio Gov. John Kasich won the state of Ohio. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
HICKORY, NC - MARCH 14: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, left, talks with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, right, during a campaign rally at Lenoir-Rhyne University March 14, 2016 in Hickory, North Carolina. The North Carolina Republican primary will be held March 15. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
BLOOMINGTON, IL - MARCH 13: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump pulls Alex Stypik from a crowd of supporters to show off his shirt during a rally at the Central Illinois Regional Airport on March 13, 2016 in Bloomington, Illinois. The Trump campaign cancelled a recent rally in Chicago after learning hundreds of demonstrators were ticketed for the event. Illinois voters go to the polls on March 15. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
JUPITER, FL - MARCH 08: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump holds up his book after holding a press conference at the Trump National Golf Club Jupiter on March 8, 2016 in Jupiter, Florida. Trump is projected to win the Republican Presidential primaries in Mississippi and Michigan. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
GREENVILLE, SC - FEBRUARY 15: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally held in the TD Convention Center in Greenville, SC on Monday Feb. 15, 2016. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, NH - FEBRUARY 09: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump greets people as he visits a polling station as voters cast their primary day ballots on February 9, 2016 in Manchester, New Hampshire. The process to select the next Democratic and Republican Presidential candidates continues. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
US Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump speaks to the crowd during a rally February 8, 2016 in Manchester, NH. US presidential candidates, including billionaire Donald Trump and under-pressure Democrat Hillary Clinton, criss-crossed snowy New Hampshire in a final frantic bit to win over undecided voters before Tuesday's crucial primary. / AFP / Don EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
HOLDERNESS, NH - FEBRUARY 7: Patrons reach out for photos and signatures from republican presidential candidate Donald Trump as he greets people after speaking at a campaign rally at Plymouth State University in Holderness, NH on Sunday Feb. 07, 2016. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign stop at Farmington High School, Monday, Jan. 25, 2016, in Farmington. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
MARSHALLTOWN, IA - JANUARY 26: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a rally on January 26, 2016 in Marshalltown, Iowa. Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the anti-immigration sheriff from Maricopa County, Arizona, today announced his support for Trump's presidential bid. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, left, endorses Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during a rally at the Iowa State University, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016, in Ames, Iowa. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
WINTERSET, IA - JANUARY 19: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at the John Wayne Birthplace Museum on January 19, 2016 in Winterset, Iowa. Trump received the endorsement of Aissa Wayne, John Wayne's daughter. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump waves to supporters after meeting with volunteers at the local Pizza Ranch restaurant, Friday, Jan. 15, 2016, in Waukee, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Republican presidential candidate, businessman Donald Trump stands on the stage before the Fox Business Network Republican presidential debate at the North Charleston Coliseum, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, in North Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
NORTH CHARLESTON, SC - JANUARY 14: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump participates in the Fox Business Network Republican presidential debate at the North Charleston Coliseum and Performing Arts Center on January 14, 2016 in North Charleston, South Carolina. The sixth Republican debate is held in two parts, one main debate for the top seven candidates, and another for three other candidates lower in the current polls. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign stop at the Flynn Center of the Performing Arts in Burlington, Vt., Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE - Emmy Award-nominated 'Jimmy Kimmel Live' airs every weeknight (11:35 p.m. - 12:41 a.m., ET), packed with hilarious comedy bits and features a diverse lineup of guests including celebrities, athletes, musicians, comedians and humorous human interest subjects. The guests for Wednesday, December 16 included Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump and musical guest Gary Clark Jr. (Photo by Randy Holmes/ABC via Getty Images) DONALD TRUMP, JIMMY KIMMEL
GRAND RAPIDS, MI - DECEMBER 21: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to guests at a campaign rally on December 21, 2015 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The full-house event was repeatedly interrupted by protestors. Trump continues to lead the most polls in the race for the Republican nomination for president. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
MESA, AZ - DECEMBER 16: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to guest gathered during a campaign event at the International Air Response facility on December 16, 2015 in Mesa, Arizona. Trump is in Arizona the day after the Republican Presidential Debate hosted by CNN in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)
ORLANDO, FL - NOVEMBER 13: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump waves as he is introduced during the Sunshine Summit conference being held at the Rosen Shingle Creek on November 13, 2015 in Orlando, Florida. The summit brought Republican presidential candidates in front of the Republican voters. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reacts to a reporter's question in the spin room following the Republican Presidential Debate hosted by Fox Business and The Wall Street Journal November 10, 2015 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. AFP PHOTO / JOSHUA LOTT (Photo credit should read Joshua LOTT/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 03: Donald Trump attends a press conference for the release of his new book 'Crippled America' at Trump Tower on November 3, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Noam Galai/WireImage)
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump greets supporters during a rally, Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015 in Norfolk, Va. (AP Photo/Jason Hirschfeld)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump looks out from his car window as he leaves after speaking at a town hall meeting at the Atkinson Country Club in Atkinson, N.H., Monday, Oct. 26, 2015. (AP Photo/Cheryl Senter)
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NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 28: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump arrives to give a speech outlining his vision for tax reform at his skyscraper on Fifth Avenue on September 28, 2015 in New York City. Under the plan there would be four tax categories, with people earning less than $25,000 per year paying 0% tax. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
COLUMBIA, SC - SEPTEMBER 23: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to the media before a campaign event September 23, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina. Earlier today, Trump tweeted 'FoxNews has been treating me very unfairly & I have therefore decided that I won't be doing any more Fox shows for the foreseeable future.' (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gives a national security speech aboard the World War II Battleship USS Iowa, September 15, 2015, in San Pedro, California. AFP PHOTO /ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump holds his pledge during a news conference, at Trump Tower in New York, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015. Trump ruled out the prospect of a third-party White House bid and vowed to support the Republican Party's nominee, whoever it may be. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, center, stops to take a photograph with Jim Tranz, of Port Charlotte, Fla., as he walks with a crowd during the final round of play at The Barclays golf tournament Sunday, Aug. 30, 2015, in Edison, N.J. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, second left, applauds play as he walks with a crowd during the final round of play at The Barclays golf tournament Sunday, Aug. 30, 2015, in Edison, N.J. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
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A woman with her baby shows excitement when the Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump greets them after he speaks at a campaign pep rally, Friday, Aug. 21, 2015, in Mobile, Ala. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
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Republican presidential candidate businessman Donald Trump speaks during a campaign pep rally, Friday, Aug. 21, 2015, in Mobile, Ala. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
UNITED STATES - August 15: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump greets fairgoers as he visits the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa, on Saturday, August 15, 2015. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump greets the crowd at the Iowa State Fair Saturday, Aug. 15, 2015, in Des Moines. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump appears before addressing a GOP fundraising event, Tuesday, Aug, 11, 2015, in Birch Run, Mich. Trump attended the Lincoln Day Dinner of the Genesee and Saginaw county Republican parties. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
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AYR, SCOTLAND - JULY 30: Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump visits his Scottish golf course Turnberry on July 30, 2015 in Ayr, Scotland. Donald Trump will answer questions from the media at a press conference where reporters will be limited to questions just about golf. (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)
Presidential contender Donald Trump poses for the media during the third day of the Women's British Open golf championship on the Turnberry golf course in Turnberry, Scotland, Saturday, Aug. 01, 2015. (AP Photo/Scott Heppell)
Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump drives a golf buggy during his visits to his Scottish golf course Turnberry on July 30, 2015 in Ayr, Scotland. Donald Trump answered questions from the media at a press conference held in his hotel. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
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FILE - In this July 25, 2015 file photo, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks in Oskaloosa, Iowa. Trump, widely believed to the be the wealthiest American ever to run for president, is nowhere among the ranks of the country’s most generous citizens, according to an Associated Press review of his financial records and other government filings. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 22: Donald Trump greets supporters, tourists and the curious after taping an interview with Anderson Cooper at a Trump owned building in mid-town Manhattan on July 22, 2015 in New York City. Trump, who is running for president on a Republican ticket, has come under intensifying criticism for his behavior on the campaign trail. The billionaire's most recent comments on Senator John McCain's war record in Vietnam have resulted in almost universal criticism from fellow candidates. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
LAREDO, TEXAS - JULY 23: Republican Presidential candidate and business mogul Donald Trump talks to media from his car wearing a, 'Make America Great Again,' hat during his trip to the border on July 23, 2015 in Laredo, Texas. Trump's recent comments, calling some immigrants from Mexico as drug traffickers and rapists, have stirred up reactions on both sides of the aisle. Although fellow Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry has denounced Trump's comments and his campaign in general, U.S. Senator from Texas Ted-Cruz has so far refused to bash his fellow Republican nominee. (Photo by Matthew Busch/Getty Images)
LAREDO, TEXAS - JULY 23: Republican Presidential candidate and business mogul Donald Trump talks to the media at a press conference during his trip to the border on July 23, 2015 in Laredo, Texas. Trump's recent comments, calling some immigrants from Mexico as drug traffickers and rapists, have stirred up reactions on both sides of the aisle. Although fellow Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry has denounced Trump's comments and his campaign in general, U.S. Senator from Texas Ted-Cruz has so far refused to bash his fellow Republican nominee. (Photo by Matthew Busch/Getty Images)
AMES, IA - JULY 18: Republican presidential hopeful businessman Donald Trump fields questions at The Family Leadership Summit at Stephens Auditorium on July 18, 2015 in Ames, Iowa. According to the organizers the purpose of The Family Leadership Summit is to inspire, motivate, and educate conservatives. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks before a crowd of 3,500 Saturday, July 11, 2015, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
PHOENIX, AZ - JULY 11: Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses supporters during a political rally at the Phoenix Convention Center on July 11, 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona. Trump spoke about illegal immigration and other topics in front of an estimated crowd of 4,200. (Photo by Charlie Leight/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump pauses as he speaks before a crowd of 3,500 Saturday, July 11, 2015, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump waves to the crowd as he arrives to speak at a rally before a crowd of 3,500 Saturday, July 11, 2015, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Donald Trump gestures while speaking surrounded by people whose families were victims of illegal immigrants on July 10, 2015 while meeting with the press at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, where some shared their stories of the loss of a loved one. The US business magnate Trump, who is running for president in the 2016 presidential elections, angered members of the Latino community with recent comments but says he will win the Latino vote. AFP PHOTO / FREDERIC J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump smiles as he leaves after speaking at a news conference about immigration, Friday, July 10, 2015, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Donald Trump gestures while speaking surrounded by people who's families were victims of illegal immigrants on July 10, 2015 while meeting with the press at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, where some shared their stories of the loss of a loved one. The US business magnate Trump, who is running forpPresident in the 2016 presidential elections, angered members of the Latino community with recent comments but says he will win the Latino vote. AFP PHOTO / FREDERIC J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 06: Donald Trump attends the 2015 Hank's Yanks Golf Classic at Trump Golf Links Ferry Point on July 6, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump talks with reporters after speaking to members of the City Club of Chicago, Monday, June 29, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Real estate mogul Donald Trump announces his bid for the presidency in the 2016 presidential race during an event at the Trump Tower on the Fifth Avenue in New York City on June 16, 2015. Trump, one of America's most flamboyant and outspoken billionaires, threw his hat into the race Tuesday for the White House, promising to make America great again. The 69-year-old long-shot candidate ridiculed the country's current crop of politicians and vowed to take on the growing might of China in a speech launching his run for the presidency in 2016. 'I am officially running for president of the United States and we are going to make our country great again,' he said from a podium bedecked in US flags at Trump Tower on New York's Fifth Avenue. The tycoon strode onto the stage after sailing down an escalator to the strains of 'Rockin' In The Free World' by Canadian singer Neil Young after being introduced by daughter Ivanka. His announcement follows years of speculation that the man known to millions as the bouffant-haired host of American reality TV game show 'The Apprentice' would one day enter politics. Trump identifies himself as a Republican, and has supported Republican candidates in the past. But in his announcement speech he did not explicitly say if he was running for the party's nomination or as an independent.AFP PHOTO/ KENA BETANCUR (Photo credit should read KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 16: (L-R) Eric Trump, Lara Yunaska Trump, Donald Trump, Barron Trump, Melania Trump, Vanessa Haydon Trump, Kai Madison Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Donald John Trump III, and Ivanka Trump pose for photos on stage after Donald Trump announced his candidacy for the U.S. presidency at Trump Tower on June 16, 2015 in New York City. Trump is the 12th Republican who has announced running for the White House. (Photo by Christopher Gregory/Getty Images)
Photo by: Dennis Van Tine/STAR MAX/IPx 6/16/15 Donald Trump announces his Candidacy for President of The United States of America at Trump Tower. (NYC)
PHOENIX, AZ - JULY 11: Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses supporters during a political rally at the Phoenix Convention Center on July 11, 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona. Trump spoke about illegal immigration and other topics in front of an estimated crowd of 4,200. (Photo by Charlie Leight/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 16: Business mogul Donald Trump gives a speech as he announces his candidacy for the U.S. presidency at Trump Tower on June 16, 2015 in New York City. Trump is the 12th Republican who has announced running for the White House. (Photo by Christopher Gregory/Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IA - MAY 16: Businessman Donald Trump speaks to guests gathered for the Republican Party of Iowa's Lincoln Dinner at the Iowa Events Center on May 16, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. The event sponsored by the Republican Party of Iowa gave several Republican presidential hopefuls an opportunity to strengthen their support among Iowa Republicans ahead of the 2016 Iowa caucus. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IA - MAY 16: Businessman Donald Trump speaks to guests gathered for the Republican Party of Iowa's Lincoln Dinner at the Iowa Events Center on May 16, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. The event sponsored by the Republican Party of Iowa gave several Republican presidential hopefuls an opportunity to strengthen their support among Iowa Republicans ahead of the 2016 Iowa caucus. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 16: Business mogul Donald Trump arrives at a press event where he announced his candidacy for the U.S. presidency at Trump Tower on June 16, 2015 in New York City. Trump is the 12th Republican who has announced running for the White House. (Photo by Christopher Gregory/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 16: Business mogul Donald Trump arrives at a press event where he announced his candidacy for the U.S. presidency at Trump Tower on June 16, 2015 in New York City. Trump is the 12th Republican who has announced running for the White House. (Photo by Christopher Gregory/Getty Images)
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump greets supporters at a campaign rally in Clive, Iowa, U.S., September 13, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump gestures to supporters as he departs a campaign rally in Clive, Iowa, U.S., September 13, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016, in Clive, Iowa. A war of words over Donald Trumpâs âdeplorablesâ is intensifying as Republicans and Democrats fight to score political points over Hillary Clintonâs charge that millions of the New York billionaireâs supporters are racist, sexist and homophobic. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
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3. Trump's support is broad-based in the party

While Rubio pitches himself as best-positioned to unite the party, Trump has a case of his own to make. Exit polls in the first three states show strong support for the New York billionaire across age groups, sexes, ideologies, income level, religious inclinations, issue preferences and candidate qualities.

Though he lost some subgroups in South Carolina -- like well-educated voters, who Rubio won, and very conservative voters, who Cruz won -- exit polls showed no glaring vulnerability that could undermine him. The only GOP faction that overwhelmingly views Trump as unacceptable is national party leaders and senior operatives, whose influence is diminished by the fact that they are loathed by the GOP base (a dynamic that helped give rise to Trump in the first place).

One serious knock on Trump is that his unfavorable rating is poorer than those of Cruz and Rubio. A Quinnipiac poll found his rating with Republicans at 62 percent favorable, 31 unfavorable. Cruz's were 62 percent favorable, 23 percent favorable; Rubio's were 64 percent favorable, 17 percent unfavorable.

Sullivan, Rubio's campaign manager, wrote in his memo that the Floridian "has the highest favorability of anyone in the race" and has "the most room to grow."

But for now, at least, there is scant evidence to suggest Trump's unfavorable ratings are at a critical mass to prevent him for getting the nomination.

4. 'Second choice' votes aren't all anti-Trump

While a crowded field arguably helps Trump more than a small field, a NBC/SurveyMonkey poll released Thursday indicates that supporters of other candidates would not unify against Trump as others drop out.

The survey found that Bush backers are torn between Rubio (19 percent), Kasich (16 percent), Cruz (12 percent) and Trump (11 percent). Kasich fans are torn between Rubio (24 percent), Trump (16 percent) and Cruz (10 percent). Carson supporters split between Cruz (24 percent), Trump (22 percent) and Rubio (16 percent).

"I think they live in a fantasyland right now," former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich said Monday on Fox News, referring to the GOP establishment. "If you take Trump's vote and Cruz's vote and [Ben] Carson's vote ... they have been consistently above 60 percent everywhere in the country, if you pool together all of the insurgents."

As for Trump's two closest competitors, it is similarly unlikely that if one drops out, the other would gain all of his voters. The NBC poll found that Rubio supporters prefer Cruz over Trump as their second choice by a margin of 31 to 17 percent. Cruz supporters, meanwhile, split 33 percent for Rubio and 26 percent for Trump.

Taken together, the data suggest that defeating Trump will require weakening his support among Republicans, rather than simply turning the primary into a one-on-one contest with the front-runner.

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