Donald Trump has skyrocketed to the top of The Hill's rankings of 2016 GOP candidates
, leaving former front-runner Jeb Bush in the dust.
The billionaire developer "has utterly transformed the race, challenging conventional wisdom every step of the way," the influential political-news website said.
"Elites continue to scoff at Trump, but he is unarguably the front-runner for the nomination at this point. Trump has held the lead in national polling averages since mid-July and has not come close to relinquishing it.
"He also tops polls in the first three states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina."
The Hill noted that not even Trump's fiery attacks on Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly or other controversies he's stoked have hurt him.
Trump was not even on The Hill's top 10 list when the candidates were first accessed in May. And last month, he only placed eighth.
As the new No. 1, Trump knocks Bush to No. 2, followed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who rose from 10th place to third. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, lost ground, dropping from second to fourth place.
After Walker, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who fell two positions from third to fifth place, and Dr. Ben Carson, who is down two positions from fourth to sixth place.
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas held steady in seventh place, followed by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who plummeted from fifth to eight place.
Rounding out the top 10 were former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, who was not on last month's list and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who slid from sixth place to tenth place.
While Trump is the undisputed leader of the pack, The Hill cautions his barnstorming campaign could "easily come undone."
That's because GOP insiders worry that in a general election, "he is likely to face sharper attacks as time goes on and, for many Republican voters, the novelty of his candidacy could simply wear off," The Hill's Niall Stanage reports.
Stanage also says Bush, despite his "unimpressive stretch" campaigning, has the famous last name and fundraising capability to remain "the best fit for the role."
But Bush's foot-in-mouth gaffes — such as likening the term "anchor babies" to Asians — are worrying, The Hill says.
Kasich, who had the most dramatic rise in The Hill's survey, poses a serious challenge to Bush, who he could "destabilize" by winning the New Hampshire primary, according to the website.
"Kasich's status as the popular governor of a critical battleground state also impresses those GOP voters desperate to find a winner next November. He has momentum on his side," The Hill said.
While Walker's numbers have dropped, he "remains competitive in overall polling averages," The Hill said. However, "he needs to turn things around quickly." It says part of Walker's problem was a "bland performance" in the first GOP debate.
Rubio, The Hill says, has "charisma, oratorical skill, a Cuban heritage that could appeal to Hispanic voters," but "he's going nowhere fast in the polls."
Carson, the retired neurosurgeon turned political novice, "continues to perform well in many polls, currently sitting second in the RCP national average." But, "there are still big question-marks over Carson's lack of political experience and the strength of his campaign infrastructure."
Cruz' hard-right spiel appeals to conservative voters, but his capacity to herd in the mainstream crowd is questionable, according to The Hill.
Likewise, Huckabee has a strong evangelical constituency and solid debating skills, but his success depends on becoming "the clear choice of social conservatives," something Cruz has capitalized on better.
Fiorina's standout performance in the GOP debate of second-tier candidates has given her a major push in the polls, "but she does not seem to have a realistic chance of winning anywhere," The Hill said.
As for Paul, he hasn't stayed afloat following an early splash in the polls and "there is no
strong reason to believe he can reverse his decline.... GOP voters simply aren't buying what he's selling," The Hill said.
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