Over the past three months the scariest chart for the GOP establishment has only gotten scarier. We refer, of course, to the one below which compiles all the latest opinion polls on the Republican national primary and specifically the meteoric rise of its frontrunner: Donald Trump.
And while initial denial by virtually everyone, especially the so-called pundits none of whom anticipated Trump's unprecedented surge in the polls, turned slowly into much publicized anger, now comes the bargaining phase, and as Bloomberg political commentator Mark Halperin who admits spending "about 60 percent of my waking hours talking about Donald Trump" explores, the panicked GOP establishment is now scrambling to find ways to "stop" the Trump Juggernaut.
According to him, the core GOP and especially his republicans contenders, may attack Trump through four possible frames:
- Trump can’t be trusted because he is an egomaniac with a bad character.
- Trump is a liberal and unprincipled.
- Trump is not close to being fit to be a serious president or commander-in-chief.
- Trump is a politician, not a businessman/outsider.
On the strategy of Trump's GOP rivals:
"There is by no means consensus on which of these frames will work or how to flesh them out. One school of thought, according to my reporting, is to go with an amalgamation of 'deals and females,' on the theory that those are Trump's twin vices and the opposition could use those issues to at least pry away some parts of his current coalition and bring his poll numbers down closer to the pack. The hope is that should Trump's numbers go lower, he will get rattled, his aura of invincibility will dissipate, and his mojo will be disrupted."
On a potential timetable:
"... Barring some major unforeseen development, most Republican strategists now are resigned to deferring a climactic attempt to kill Trump until the field winnows down next spring. This scenario, of course, ignores the prospect that Trump could rack up so many victories in the meantime that his momentum would be difficult, or impossible, to stop."
On Trump’s advantage:
"In the modern era, the Republican nomination has been won by the combatant who is best at playing a game of kill-or-be-killed. In the end, becoming the standard bearer has not been about the daily polls, the staff hires, the policy speeches, the fundraising, the cattle calls, the promised agenda. It’s been about having the skill and confidence to stamp out anyone who threatens you.
However, none of this may apply: as Bloomberg observes, "with Trump, the rules have changed. So far, he has proven to be largely immune from attack, and also a master killer himself, with a unique political arsenal. With a few months to go before voters vote, Trump has squashed the poll numbers and personas of a host of his rivals, without resorting to significant traditional opposition research, paid media, or surrogates. He simply uses Instagram, Twitter, and his virtually unlimited access to the news media to unsheathe his sharp tongue, cutthroat sensibility, and unerring perverse humor. And Trump can shift to kill mode without strain or hesitation.
In fact, if anything Trump is rapidly schooling everyone, the media, his opponents, and the punditry, how presidential elections in the New Normal should be run:
When media outlets and pundits exclaim that he’s gone too far, Trump is never sorry, never accepts any blame. Unlike other candidates caught in the Internet glare of controversy, Trump doesn’t do the deer-in-the-headlight cringe, nor does he apologize. When asked about his favorite Bible verses or challenged on his remarks about debate moderator Megyn Kelly and rival candidate Carly Fiorina, Trump hasn’t flinched, even when giving answers that some listeners find incredible. When he becomes aware he has stepped over the line (sometimes thanks to the counsel of his daughter, Ivanka), he knows how to minimize the damage by bluffing his way out the other side. And his capacity to generate news coverage and controversy gives him an unprecedented ability to change the subject and turn the page if he missteps.
As a result, "barring some major unforeseen development, most Republican strategists now are resigned to deferring a climactic attempt to kill Trump until the field winnows down next spring. This scenario, of course, ignores the prospect that Trump could rack up so many victories in the meantime that his momentum would be difficult, or impossible, to stop. But Trump’s adversaries are hoping that his power will wane when the entertainment portion of the contest ends and voters are ready to pick a president."
Can Trump be killed? The history of past nomination fights suggest he can be. The untraditional front-runners of the summer silly season have always swiftly fallen to the back of the pack—or out of the race altogether—in the fall. But we are in uncharted territory now, with a canny celebrity front-runner who combines an unprecedented and nearly unlimited access to both social and traditional media with a completely sui generis gift for attack and counterpunch politics. The three-month whirlwind since he entered the race demonstrates that of all Trump’s extraordinary talents, master of kill-or-be-killed might be his most decisive—and the single most important factor in determining whom the Republican Party nominates for president next year.
Yet all attempts to deconstruct the Trump campaign, and to reverse engineer his success will likely fail if, in the end, he manages to sustain his image not so much as that of a vote for "Trump", but as one against a system which most Americans have by now realized is rotten to the core thanks to its "crony capitalist" puppet strings controlled by vast, faceless corporations and cronyism working on behalf not of Main Street but of Wall Street year after year and election after election.
What is most amazing is that the "expert" punditry still has not realized that a vote for Trump is not a "vote for Trump" but a vote of protest against the broken system.
If anyone wants to beat Trump in his own game, they will have to show and prove to the voters of America, that the existing system not only still works, but is worth saving in its current broken form.
This is the biggest challenge to everyone - on the right, on the left and in the middle - even if nobody wants to admit it.