WASHINGTON — Donald Trump continued to defy the laws of political gravity on Monday as a Reuters/Ipsos poll found the real estate mogul holding onto a wide lead among Republicans in the presidential race despite an acerbic debate and a feud with a female television anchor that have bolstered charges of sexism.
Trump led the party’s 17-strong 2016 presidential field with the backing of 24 percent of Republican voters, unchanged from before Thursday’s televised debate.
His closest rival, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, trails at 12 percent, down from 17 percent before the debate. No other candidate earned more than 8 percent in the online poll, conducted between the end of the debate and Sunday.
The reality television star has been under intense criticism for caustic comments about Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly during and after the debate, and was disinvited from a weekend gathering of conservative activists in Georgia after he said Kelly, who helped moderate the debate, had “blood coming out of her wherever.”
Trump has been a focus of controversy since June, when he entered the race for the Republican nomination in the November 2016 election.
Harsh comments about Mexican immigrants drew widespread condemnation and prompted some business partners to sever ties, while his feud with Arizona Sen. John McCain, the party’s 2008 presidential nominee, has angered many party officials.
But the drama has done little so far to dent Trump’s appeal among less affluent, conservative-leaning voters who say his brash style is needed to shake up an overly cautious political system and that his vast wealth would help him resist corrupting influences.
“They want someone who’s an outsider, who can upset the applecart,” said Craig Robinson, a former political director of the Iowa Republican Party. “They’re willing to deal with a less-than-perfect candidate if they believe it will actually change things in Washington.”
The online poll of 278 self-identified Republicans has a credibility interval of 6.7 percentage points.
Despite Trump’s outsider appeal, he fares no better against Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton than other Republican candidates. In a head-to-head match-up, Clinton would beat Trump by 43 percent to 29 percent, the poll found. Clinton would beat other Republican candidates such as Bush, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz by similar margins.
The debate did little to change Republican voters’ opinions of Trump, the poll found. One-third said they liked him more after the debate, one-third said they liked him less, and the remaining third said their opinions had not changed.
Other candidates fared better. Voters were more likely to say the debate had improved their opinions of Rubio, Cruz, former technology executive Carly Fiorina, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
Only Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul appears to have been hurt, as 8 percent said their opinion of him improved while 22 percent said they felt more negative.