After Signs of Slowing, Trump Seems to Reclaim Some Momentum

Screen Shot 2015-11-20 at 10.15.43 AMMAGGIE HABERMAN

Friday, November 20, 2015


Good Friday morning. The Paris attacks and subsequent debate over Syrian refugees have prompted the candidates to give major national security addresses, propose legislation and debate the merits of religious tests for immigrants. They have also provided an opportunity for Donald J. Trump to reassert his position at the front of the pack.

The value of predictions in the 2016 presidential campaign has, so far, been rather small. And that is particularly true of forecasts about Mr. Trump.

There was a moment last week, after the latest Republican presidential debate, when the contest seemed to be moving away from Mr. Trump, and focusing more on a battle between Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. At the end of that week, Mr. Trump delivered a speech that had some Republicans predicting his potential demise, after he questioned the intelligence of Ben Carson’s supporters in Iowa and dropped a profanity about his plans to tackle ISIS.

That seems like a lifetime ago. The terrorist attacks in Paris last Friday have altered the dynamic of the primary, at least for now. Instead of diminishing Mr. Trump’s standing, his original message of blocking immigrants at the southern border of the United States because of potential security threats has renewed resonance. His call last night for requiring Muslims in the United States to register for a database, drew not a word of dissent from other Republicans, at least initially.
A tough-sounding candidate or leader can hold powerful sway at a moment of crisis — like former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York, whose poll numbers were low before the Sept. 11 attacks. He was globally praised as a leader, whose tough-guy ways were exactly what New Yorkers wanted.
Mr. Trump has shown durability in his poll numbers but in almost nothing else. A few good days on the trail have been followed by whiffs on the debate stage. Conversely, an over-the-top speech or weak debate performance has been followed by a rival’s stumbles, allowing Mr. Trump to find his footing. Many senior Republicans acknowledge that the wind again seems to be at his back.
Mr. Trump is a one-day-at-a-time candidate, about whom predictions have been useless beyond simply describing what is taking place. But in a deeply chaotic election cycle, that might be the only prediction possible.