The GOP establishment is in full-scale panic mode over Donald Trump.
Nothing seems to slow the candidate. He went to war with Megyn Kelly and Fox News, and media predicted his imminent demise; his polls maintained. He insulted John McCain’s POW status, and media predicted his imminent demise; his polls maintained. He attacked Ben Carson’s personal history, and media predicted his imminent demise; his polls maintained. In the last two weeks, media attempted to ensnare him in controversies surrounding registration of American Muslims and whether American Muslims celebrated 9/11, then predicted his imminent demise; his polls rose.
I haven’t been immune to all of this. In July, I questioned whether Trump’s incoherence on immigration could damage him with his own voters. Wrong. Two weeks ago, I wrote that Trump “may have just ended his campaign” over his ridiculous imitation of Ben Carson’s stabbing story. Wrong.
Nothing, it appears, can stop the Trump train. I don’t think the current controversy over his imitation of a reporter with a physical infirmity will hurt him. I don’t think any typical controversy will hurt him. That’s for two reasons. First, he’s so well-known that those who like him like him, and those who don’t don’t – nobody’s surprised by Trump at this point. Second, the media are so ridiculously biased that no matter how they attack him, Trump’s defenders can point out that the attack is selective in nature.
So, how could the GOP actually prevent Trump from winning the nomination?
By ending their idiotic insistence that Trump will come back to earth in the polls, and instead realizing that he’s not drawing anything remotely resembling a majority in the primary states. Trump is certainly frontrunning, but he’s never reached higher than 30 percent in Iowa, 32 percent in New Hampshire, and 35 percent in South Carolina. By way of contrast, Rick Santorum won Iowa with 25 percent of the vote in 2012, Romney won New Hampshire with 39 percent of the vote, and Gingrich won South Carolina with 40 percent of the vote. The second place finishers in those contests won 25 percent in Iowa (Romney), 23 percent in New Hampshire (Ron Paul), and 28 percent in South Carolina (Romney).
Trump’s numbers in the early primary states could maintain the way they are, and he could still lose all of those primaries.
That only works, however, if Republican insiders begin dumping all their favorite contenders. After the last debate, for some inexplicable reason many of Jeb Bush’s backers proclaimed that he was back on track. He isn’t. He’s sucking energy and cash out of the race. In the latest Quinnipiac poll in Iowa, Trump leads 25 to 23 over Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), with Marco Rubio clocking in at 13 percent and Jeb pulling just four percent. Imagine if the establishment decided to unify behind Cruz, for example, overcoming their distaste for his anti-establishment tendencies to recognize that he is a far more intelligent, conservative candidate than Trump. Cruz would suddenly leap to well above 40 percent in the polls – and those numbers would only climb as Ben Carson’s support drops away.
The same would hold true in New Hampshire, where the latest CBS/YouGov poll has Trump at 32 percent and Rubio at 13 percent, with Cruz at 10. Imagine if the establishment decided to simply move support from John Kasich, Jeb Bush, and Chris Christie over to Rubio. He’d suddenly be at 32 percent, right there alongside Trump.
This isn’t about Trump coming down. It’s about the rest of the party consolidating. Amazingly, Reince Priebus’ decision to accelerate the primary schedule actually militates against such a consolidation among the candidates – the longer they stay in, the better the shot they win a surprise primary or two, boosting their odds. The race has become a game of chicken.
But Trump has proved himself far too durable to simply drop the way establishment Republicans have dreamed. They’d better come up with a plan better than television ads and prayer if they truly want to stop him.