We’re 17 days from the Iowa caucuses. As Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio look to stump Donald Trump, who currently holds a very slim lead in Iowa and a 15 point margin in the national polling average, let’s compare how Trump stands, with previous frontrunners this far out.
Can Trump be beaten this late in the game?
The answer is Yes. Just look at who led in the past. Newt Gingrich was the man on top in the Real Clear Politics average four years ago. 17 days from Iowa he held a 10 point lead over eventual nominee Mitt Romney. Gingrich won two early states (South Carolina and Georgia), finishing third in popular vote in the primary season.
Gingrich was in fact beaten by two men who trailed him in the national polling. Rick Santorum 17 days out was a distant fifth nationally at 3.4%, tied with Jon Huntsman. He went on to win Iowa and ten other states, something nobody was publicly predicting 17 days out.
2012 wasn’t an anomaly either. Look at 2008. Rudy Giuliani was on top, with a 10 point lead over 4th place John McCain, the eventual nominee. Giuliani – the brash New Yorker with a tendency to invoke 9/11, famously photographed kissing Donald Trump – led the polls but would win no states. The Rudy was a complete washout when the votes came in.
Giuliani was leapfrogged by the three guys immediately behind him. Second place Mike Huckabee finished third, winning eight states starting with Iowa. Third place Mitt Romney won 11 states, starting with Michigan and Nevada. John McCain was in fourth nationally, but he won the nomination.
Polls change, and change rapidly. This could be a wild month (or three) coming up as the top candidates jostle for the nomination. With history as a guide, Donald Trump seems more likely not to be the nominee, than to win it, poll advantage or no.