ARUN RATH, HOST:
Another week gone by, another week with Donald Trump extending his lead in the polls for the Republican presidential nomination. He's also made Republicans nervous, threatening to wage a third-party bid. Yesterday in Nashville, he said he'll make a decision on that soon.
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PRES CAND DONALD TRUMP: The Republican Party has been treating me very, very fairly. All I ask is fairness. And I'm leading in every poll by a lot. We're leading in every state by a lot. And a lot of things are really happening. In terms of victory, that would certainly be the best path to victory, and we're going to make a decision very soon. And I think a lot of people are going to be very happy.
RATH: NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro joins us now to talk about the 2016 presidential hopefuls and the current occupant of the White House who's heading off to a far more remote path. So, Domenico, why would Trump make this no third-party pledge now?
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Well, you know, if you read between the lines of what you heard Trump say there, he sure sounds like someone who's leaning towards not running an independent bid. There's this hard deadline for him, which is September 30 in South Carolina. To get on that ballot, he has to sign a loyalty pledge, which basically states that if you don't win, you have to pledge to support the nominee and not run third party.
RATH: Now, with Trump, think about all the stuff that conventional wisdom said was going to be political suicide - the Megyn Kelly conflict, the comments about John McCain - but he's just getting more popular with the base. What's up with that?
MONTANARO: Well, it's really quite remarkable. He's gone against the grain for so many things in what political observers would've thought would've happened. But in several polls over the last couple of months, Trump has become more acceptable to Republican voters. Last night, an Iowa poll was released, really considered the gold standard of Iowa polling, and he not only lead but was among the best liked candidates. Back in May in that same poll, Trump was viewed favorably - get this - by just 27 percent of likely Republican caucus goers; a full 63 percent - almost two thirds - had a negative opinion of him. Now, those numbers have flipped, and 61 percent have a positive opinion, 35 percent are negative. That's a 52-point turnaround, just unheard of, especially for someone as well-known as Trump is.
RATH: And speaking of that Iowa poll, the other non-establishment candidate on the other side - Vermont senator, Bernie Sanders, is gaining on Hillary Clinton there. What do you make of that?
MONTANARO: No doubt about it. And Hillary Clinton's only up seven points in that poll now - 37-30. Consider that back in January, before the campaigning began, Clinton led Sanders by 51 points - 56 to 5. You know, this phenomenon now has caused the pollster there, Ann Selzer, very renowned and respected in the state, to say that this is like 2008 all over again. In some ways, it is because Sanders is winning over first-time caucus goers, young voters. You know, but he's not Barack Obama. I mean, let's be honest about that. And Obama had a much more professional field operation. He had a lot more money to go the long haul, so we'll see what winds up happening with Sanders. But the comparisons to 2008 are - not quite live up to that just yet.
RATH: Before we let you go, President Obama is headed above the Arctic Circle tomorrow. He'll be the first sitting president to do that. Why?
MONTANARO: Well, he's trying to call attention to the issue of climate change. It's something he's been getting pushback on actually because his administration approved an oil exploration lease for Shell, the oil company, off Alaska's coast. And here's how the president defended that decision in his weekly address yesterday.
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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Our economy still has to rely on oil and gas. And as long as that's the case, I believe we should rely more on domestic production than on foreign imports.
MONTANARO: Now, I mean, the bottom line here is this is all about legacy for President Obama. We've seen him try to tic off some other items off his bucket list or something that he says rhymes with his bucket list. But there's a big climate change conference coming up in December in Paris, and he really wants to secure a deal out of that, like he did with the Iran deal and some of his other executive actions to really put on the legacy belt for him.
RATH: That's NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro. Thanks, Domenico.
MONTANARO: Always a pleasure. Thanks so much.
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