How Donald Trump hurts every GOP candidate, except one

Donald Trump's penchant for controversy stands in sharp contrast to the more restrained approach favored by former Florida governor Jeb Bush.

Scott Heppell/AP
Presidential contender Donald Trump speaks to the media during a press conference on the 1st first day of the Women's British Open golf championship on the Turnberry golf course in Turnberry, Scotland, Thursday, July 30, 2015.

A rising tide may lift all boats, but in the 2016 Republican primary race, a rising Donald Trump sinks all GOP candidates. Except one.

Since he entered the race in mid-June, the meteoric rise of the billionaire businessman and surprise Republican candidate – the latest Quinnipiac poll has Mr. Trump leading the 2016 race, as the top choice for 20 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning voters – has been matched by an equally swift drop in the polls by almost every other GOP candidate.

With his penchant for controversy and histrionics, Trump has stolen the thunder from other would-be GOP stars like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, all of whom have sunk significantly in the polls since Trump took the stage – and the limelight.

One candidate, however, appears to have profited from Trump's flashy entrance: former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Governor Bush is among the only candidates who has risen in the polls since the celebrepreneur's entry, jumping by about four percentage points in a Real Clear Politics average of polls, to about 15.5 percent.

How has Trump's rise helped Bush?

For some GOP voters, Trump simply makes Bush look good. Trump's antics and brash, sometimes caustic, personality, is a perfect foil for Bush's more measured, cerebral tone. 

“There seems to be a true contrast between the style and message of Jeb Bush versus Trump,” Susan MacManus, a University of South Florida professor, told The Hill. “Even at the same time as people don’t like government and love to hear someone bash everyone, there is also a great interest in improving the civility of public discourse. Jeb Bush is trying to tap into that.”

Bush can sell himself to voters as the Responsible Republican saving the party from Trump's recklessness.

And unlike many of their fellow contenders, Bush was already established when Trump entered the race. His name recognition, financial resources, establishment cred, and frontrunner status inoculates the former governor from the Trump Effect.

“He is able to float above a lot of this Trump stuff,” GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak told The Hill. “His campaign is big enough and strong enough that they don’t have to chase rabbits all the time.”

In fact, it's possible establishment Republicans are countering Trump's surge by closing ranks around Bush. 

In contrast, the Donald's surge appears to have left everyone else in his dust.

According to reports, Sen. Rubio has plummeted 3.2 percentage points since Trump's entry, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson has slid 3.4 points, Sen. Paul has dropped 2.5 points, and Gov. Huckabee has fallen 2.6 points.

These were the more conservative, anti-Washington candidates who hoped to transform voters' resentment and anger into votes.

Until, of course, a real estate magnate-turned-celebrity TV star-turned-GOP candidate named Trump came along and swept up the angry vote.

What happens if Trump, whose high popularity ratings are matched by his equally high unfavorable ratings, stumbles seriously in a debate, plummets in the polls, or drops out?

Expect a mad scramble for his supporters by the candidates spurned by his surge.

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