In an interview with Breitbart on Tuesday, Donald Trump appeared to take credit for relegating two of his opponents to the pre-game debate on Thursday.
“Isn’t it an amazing phenomenon? … Lindsey Graham was at 3 (percent) and nobody went after me harder than Perry and Lindsey Graham,” Trump said. “Perry was at 4 or 5, and he dropped down to 2 and Lindsey Graham dropped down to 0. I said that is the greatest honor. They attack me and they go down.”
Breitbart’s Matthew Boyle preceded the quote by looping some other competitors into that mix. “Trump noted that everyone who has attacked him from the Republican field — former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Sens. Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in particular — have all seen drops in the polls as a result of doing so,” Boyle wrote.
There are two problems with that statement. First, the “as a result” implies a causation that would be hard to prove — even if Boyle’s numbers were right. Second, Boyle’s numbers aren’t right.
Comparing the candidates in that chart to each other doesn’t tell us much. Instead, we need to compare the candidates (and Trump) to their position relative to themselves — that is, how they were doing before and after attacking Trump.
Jeb Bush hit Trump on Independence Day, as the furor over the businessman’s immigration comments was roiling. Over the long term, Trump rose and Bush fell. But in the immediate aftermath of the comments, Bush stayed flat. A week later, his polling average was unchanged; when it did change, it went up.
Marco Rubio had called out Trump the day before, but didn’t really get much attention for doing so. (It was the 4th of July holiday, after all.) Same pattern: Over the long term, he’s dropped, but shortly afterward, he didn’t see much change.
In part, that’s because Trump gained so much. That support had to come from somewhere, and some came from Bush and Rubio who were still toward the front of the pack.
Which brings us to Scott Walker. Walker only really criticized Trump after the Donald mocked John McCain. And in the wake of that? Walker’s done better.
Weirdly enough, the same holds for the two people Trump actually called out. Perry gave a long speech denouncing Trump on July 22, a day after Graham called Trump a “jackass.” Since then, each has risen in the polls, albeit not much. Their strategy of attacking Trump might have been to their benefit, if nothing else.
So why is Perry sitting at the kids’ table tomorrow night? Because he couldn’t put together enough support to hold off Ohio Gov. John Kasich, whose late campaign announcement helped him step over the lower tier and into the debate’s 10th spot.
Sometimes, it turns out, it isn’t all about Donald Trump.