The punditry battle to “explain” why Donald Trump remains stubbornly at the top of the polls continues, much to the amusement of those who enjoy munching popcorn and taking in the circus atmosphere of the electoral process. I gave up on it a while ago when I concluded that Trump was winning a game where he simply refused to play by the rules. I’ll violate the tenet of never quoting yourself here and go back to something I wrote a little earlier this summer.

Trump’s comments about the Fox News host were uncalled for and well outside the boundaries of our usual political discourse. And that’s really the entire point I was making about Trump yesterday, isn’t it? Everything he does is outside the normal political process. The man has taken the rule book, set it on fire and dumped the ashes on the heads of everyone else. And what seems to be driving everyone in the politico class to drink is that he still manages to stay on top. This is perhaps the reminder we all needed.

By this point it seemed to me that this should have become pretty much obvious to everyone, even if it runs contrary to the established wisdom. But there are still some folks who apparently missed the memo. One example I noticed today was Steve Benen who is writing for MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow’s blog. He is clearly shocked to not only find out that there is gambling going on in the casino, but that somebody like Donald Trump could come along and rewrite the rules, spoiling everybody’s good time.

If Trump has big leads in every poll, and his “ideas,” for lack of a better word, are suddenly driving the Republican conversation, how can anyone be so dismissive of Trump’s chances?

The answer has to do with those “rules.” Political science, based largely on careful scrutiny of previous elections, tells us quite a bit about what’s probable. And in this case, everything we know about the process tells us that competitive, top-tier candidates need considerable support from the party establishment, coupled with a top-notch field operation, all built around a competent, hard-working candidate, who has some modicum of relevant experience, and who enjoys broad, sustainable appeal.

In other words, political science suggests the Trump Show will soon end. We’re witnessing a fun amusement-park ride – keep your hands and feet inside the Trump Chopper at all times – but it will stop long before Americans actually start casting votes and/or participating in caucuses.

But what if the rules are wrong? Or more to the point, what if the rules are being rewritten?

At this point it looks as if there’s a slight glimmer of light beginning to flicker behind Benen’s eyes and the smell of all this smoke is finally leading him to at least suspect there might be some fire underneath. But then he goes on to quote Norm Ornstein at The Atlantic in a piece which falls back on the usual, liberal “explanation” for Trump’s failure to dry up and blow away. The problem, as they see it, is that the time of the “reasonable Republicans” is over. (By which, of course, they mean Republicans who act sufficiently similar to Democrats to make them suitable conversational companions without needing to take a bath in Purell afterward.) In their minds, everyone even marginally associated with the Republican party is now so “radical” that they are willing to accept a brutish barbarian like Trump as their standard bearer, leading to their inevitable demise.

But Steve then backs off and reasserts his belief in “the rules” which say that Trump should eventually fail… with one caveat.

The “rules,” in other words, still count. I think. Probably.

But if members of Congress start endorsing Trump, and his lead is still significant once TV ads start blanketing Iowa and New Hampshire airwaves in the fall, all bets are off.

The greatest fear being expressed by the folks in Benen’s camp (and all of Trump’s opponents, really) is that The Donald will wake up one morning and start showing people that he actually knows how the game is played and that he’s got a path to victory in mind. Well, if this latest story out of Iowa is any indication, it’s time for them to hit the panic button. (Reuters)

DUBUQUE, Iowa Thousands of people are expected to stream into an events center here on the banks of the Mississippi River on Tuesday to see Donald Trump. When they do, his presidential campaign will be waiting, looking to convert casual gawkers into hardcore supporters who will cast votes for the billionaire presidential candidate in the Iowa caucuses next year…

When those voters enter the Grand River Center on Tuesday evening, they will immediately be diverted to tables where Trump’s staff will recruit them to be county precinct captains, organizers, and volunteers. It’s a huge competitive advantage in a presidential race where other Republican candidates at times struggle to attract crowds in the hundreds.

Wait… you mean that Trump is using his enormous crowd drawing ability to start recruiting precinct captains and set up caucus gatherings? Why, that sounds positively… political. For the states with primary elections Trump doesn’t need to worry about much beyond gathering enough signatures to get on the ballot. His non-stop cable news, earned media extravaganza will do the rest. But in places like Iowa where they hold a caucus, more work is required to win. And now he seems to be doing it. If I were any of Trump’s opponents I would find that short news item the most frightening thing of the entire campaign thus far.