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Has Donald Trump 'fired up the crazies,' like John McCain says?

But Donald Trump’s not a marginal force in the race. Some individual polls now have him leading the GOP contest – and he's gaining. Views of Mr. Trump are getting more favorable even among GOP voters who don’t back him. 

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    Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes hands prior to speaking at a rally before a crowd of 3,500 in Phoenix on Saturday.
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Has Donald Trump “fired up the crazies” in the Republican Party? That’s what Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona charged in a New Yorker article published Thursday.

Senator McCain, the 2008 GOP presidential nominee, was talking in particular about a Trump rally held in Phoenix last weekend. Trump’s been very harsh when talking about Mexico and illegal immigration – in case you hadn’t heard – and at the rally he appeared with the father of Jamiel Shaw, a promising high school athlete in Los Angeles gunned down by an undocumented immigrant in 2008.

McCain admitted that Trump was reflecting “some anger” in Arizona about the flow of immigrants across the southern US border.

“It’s very bad,” said McCain, in reference to Trump and his following. “This performance with our friend out in Phoenix was very hurtful to me. Because what he did was he fired up the crazies.”

Is that true? It’s indisputable that Trump’s public comments on immigration are, shall we say, more extreme than any other Republican running. He’s implied that most Mexicans entering the US illegally are rapists and criminals. Any voter who buys that could well rally to the Trumpian flag.

But Trump’s not a marginal force in the race. If he’s only rallying up the crazies, then there are a lot of crazies out there. Some individual polls now have Trump leading the GOP contest – a just-released USA Today/Suffolk University poll puts him at No. 1 with 17 percent, three points ahead of Jeb Bush. The RealClearPolitics rolling average of major surveys still puts Trump in second, a few points behind Jeb.

But Trump appears to be gaining.

More to the point, views of Trump are getting more favorable even among GOP voters who don’t back him. That’s pretty unusual, especially for someone as well-known as The Donald.

According to new ABC News/Washington Post poll numbers, Trump’s positive rating among all Republicans has jumped 34 points. His head is now above water on this measure, with a majority of 57 percent of GOP voters saying they have positive views of Trump.

Which groups of voters admire Trump? At his “Crystal Ball” newsletter today, University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato has a good overview of the demographics. Trump’s followership is largely white, according to Sabato. It’s disproportionately older, as voters over 65 are the only age cohort to view him favorably.

Trump polls better with men than with women. He’s disproportionately popular among lower-income voters. He does a little bit better in the Northeast than he does in the South.

This voter profile is somewhat similar to that of another outspoken billionaire presidential candidate – Ross Perot. Perot’s independent bid for the White House took 19 percent of the popular vote in 1992.

One difference here is age. Perot did best among younger voters, points out Sabato.

Trump’s followers are also somewhat similar in makeup to the Republicans who backed the blunt populist Pat Buchanan’s 1992 candidacy. Buchanan, for instance, had a similar appeal to working-class Northeasterners.

Trump, Perot, and Buchanan are also linked by a brash, outspoken (some might say too outspoken) style.

“While having a major impact, and attracting attention and lots of voters, Buchanan and Perot could not put together anything close to a winning plurality, either for a party nomination or general election,” writes Sabato. “We suspect this is the future of Trump’s 2016 candidacy.”

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