Republican National Committee (RNC) Chair Reince Priebus said Thursday night that he is certain he can convince his party to rally behind its candidate no matter which GOP contender snags the nomination — even Ted Cruz or Donald Trump.

“One hundred percent. You know the unifying thing about what I have to do is no matter who you’re for, everyone can agree that we have to have a national party and infrastructure that has its act together,” Priebus told Fox News’ Sean Hannity. He added, “Whoever the delegates of our party choose, that’s going to be the nominee and our party is gonna be behind that person 110 percent to save this country.”

***

Yet there is a nagging sense — at least nagging to rival campaigns — that Trump may be closer to Cruz than the Register suggested, and that the race in Iowa could be virtually even at this point.

“I look at Trump, and his ceiling is so much higher than everyone else’s,” says Craig Robinson, a former political director of the Iowa GOP who now runs the Iowa Republican blog. “His campaign has gone out and had people self-identify that they’re interested in him, and they’ve captured that data.”…

“Ted Cruz is swimming in a pond where the capacity is about 30,000 votes,” says Robinson. “I look at Trump and think that Trump is at that 30,000 mark now, and has the ability to blow past it, if they do a good job of turning their people out.”

***

As of Thursday evening, Trump held a 15-point lead in the RealClearPolitics national polling average and a two-to-one advantage over his closest rival in New Hampshire, which holds its primary eight days after the Iowa caucuses.

Referring to Cruz’s presumed expectation that Trump will fade, Mackowiak, the GOP strategist, said, “It could go the way he wants it to. But it could also go the other way, where Trump is too strong and is on a glide path to the nomination.”…

“The only person who really stands in the way of Trump is Cruz,” he said. “Trump is going to realize that and unload on him.”

***

It is more than an open secret that the Republican Establishment so hates Ted Cruz that they are more and more openly rooting for Donald Trump to win Iowa

The Establishment thinking is that if Trump beats Cruz in Iowa, they can then beat Trump with Rubio, Bush, or Christie.

But that is horse manure and if they were not all incompetent morons they would know it. These guys have not made a dent in Trump’s popularity. The only guys who has is named Ted Cruz, and he has done it by being humorous and kind to Trump.

If Trump beats Cruz in Iowa, the man still does not bleed. That makes him stronger and more and more locks Trump in as a viable contender. It makes it more likely that Cruz’s coalition breaks to Trump and sustains Trump, who can also pick up blue collar voters in northern states and the Rust Belt to sustain his candidacy.

***

Conservatives often find themselves in opposition to elites for two main reasons. One, because elites are often telling them how to live their lives (in contradiction to the idea of a government of limited enumerated powers); and two, because it’s hard to trust Republican elites to actually advance a conservative agenda once in power.

Somewhere along the line, hating the Establishment became so important to a certain group of conservatives, that it’s an end in and of itself. It’s now reached the point at which they’re willing embrace crackpot theories a reality TV celebrity is trying to use to tar a genuine conservative.

Sure, Trump is mocked by the media. He’s dismissed by pundits. And he gives nightmares to the party bosses. But that doesn’t mean he’s doing so in the name of advancing conservatism. Quite the opposite

Now, it is true that a lot of Trump’s support is coming from non-traditional primary voters and that most conservatives see right through him. But to those anti-Establishment conservatives who are backing him to the point of defending a smear against an actual conservative candidate, they need to realize that the enemy of your enemy isn’t necessarily your friend. And the whole point of combating the Establishment is to do so in the service of conservative principles, not to feed the ego of a celebrity.

***

With less than a month until the Iowa caucuses, followed immediately by New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary, it’s time the conservative base and Republican establishment destroy Donald J. Trump — before it’s too late for the party, the conservative cause, and the nation…

If his opponents can show Trump is the emperor with no clothes, they can win over voters. When attacked, Trump seems to grow stronger but to date Trump’s phony persona has yet to be unmasked. That’s his Achilles’ heel with his voters. An inauthentic and craven Trump would have little appeal to those seeking a candidate who would really fight for them.

The consequences of failure are huge. Not only is Trump’s support base incapable of winning 270 electoral votes and the presidency, his unpredictability and inconsistency are liabilities and deeply dangerous for those who want to govern as conservatives in a methodical and principled way.

If Trump continues to do well, there could be all kinds of consequences for Republicans who want to truly address the cultural, economic and personal struggles of the voters who now stand with him.

***

[T]he worst outcome for the party would be the nomination of Donald Trump. It is impossible to predict where the political contest between Trump and Hillary Clinton would end up. Clinton has manifestly poor political skills, and Trump possesses a serious talent for the low blow. But Trump’s nomination would not be the temporary victory of one of the GOP’s ideological factions. It would involve the replacement of the humane ideal at the center of the party and its history. If Trump were the nominee, the GOP would cease to be

All of his angry resentment against invading Hispanics and Muslims adds up to a kind of ethno-nationalism — an assertion that the United States is being weakened and adulterated by the other. This is consistent with European, right-wing, anti-immigrant populism. It is not consistent with conservatism, which, at the very least, involves respect for institutions and commitment to reasoned, incremental change…

American political parties are durable constructions. But they have been broken before by powerful, roiling issues such as immigration and racial prejudice. Many Republicans could not vote for Trump but would have a horribly difficult time voting for Clinton. The humane values of Republicanism would need to find a temporary home, which would necessitate the creation of a third party. This might help elect Clinton, but it would preserve something of conservatism, held in trust, in the hope of better days…

The nomination of Trump would reduce Republican politics — at the presidential level — to an enterprise of squalid prejudice. And many Republicans could not follow, precisely because they are Republicans. By seizing the GOP, Trump would break it to pieces.

***

Donald Trump isn’t going anywhere until someone attacks him personally, in a way so sharp-edged and relentless that the deflecting, dismissing, obfuscating and trivializing techniques that have so far served him improbably well stop working. It will require nothing less than a full-frontal assault on the Trump mythos, who he purports to be, the whole Trump mystique.

It will involve aggregating and dishing up every backroom deal, every tenant harassed, every questionable tax favor from a compliant politician, the eminent domain actions, all the bankruptcies, the racial discrimination charges, the bogus university, the pyramid scheme, the blustering and the posturing, the mob coziness, the unending go-to bullying stance, the taking credit, highlighting every community run roughshod over, even the cheating at golf, the immaturity, and the tax dodges masquerading as charitable contributions—all of it doggedly and, as must be the case with Trump, fearlessly.

Engaging in this process may not be pleasant or ennobling to contemplate, but once commenced it will chip away, chunk by chunk, and the moment Trump comes to believe that the vaunted Trump brand could be susceptible to being recast as an optical illusion, whether fairly so or not—and, truth be told, there’s reason to think it might be that, at least in some part—his instinct will be to protect it, and to do so he will find a graceful but speedy exit, slip-sliding off the stage like Bob Hope waving to the troops after a United Service Organizations roadshow, and that will be that…

More likely, a small crack in the dam will appear. Trump and his supporters will do their best to put fingers in the dyke, but eventually it will give way, and when that happens there will be the biggest political pile-on since… well, maybe ever.

***

There is no credible scenario in which a consistent 30 percent of the vote will deliver the delegates required to be the Republican nominee. So for Trump to lose, he doesn’t actually have to collapse; he just has to fail to expand his support. And in the states where candidates are actually campaigning, voters are paying the most attention, and the polling screens for likely voters are tightening, he hasn’t expanded his support meaningfully since he first climbed into the lead.

Foolish pundit that I may be, I don’t think he will. Instead, I think that Ted Cruz will continue to consolidate evangelicals as Ben Carson fades, and someone (probably Marco Rubio) will eventually consolidate the moderate-conservative vote — which is currently splintered among five candidates in New Hampshire, but which if it were consolidated would very easily beat Trump’s total in that state.

At which point — again, assuming that Trump doesn’t fade or collapse — we’ll have a three-way race, one in which the Donald could still win some states, could still pile up delegates, could even have a chance of pushing the race all the way to the convention — but would not, could not, emerge as the nominee.

***

I suspect that when we look back on the Obama years honestly—not just through the filtered light of the ceremonies as they dedicate his monument on the Mall—we will see that he ushered in a new era in American politics where ideology gave way to identity and tribalism.

And that by marrying the politics of identity to expanded executive authority and hyper-partisanship, he fundamentally changed America’s political compact. Think about the list of Obama’s most important accomplishments: the passage of Obamacare; the Obergefell verdict; mass amnesty; the Iran nuclear deal; the climate change treaty; and now his dictum on firearms. Not one of these programs had a solid majority of public support. And consequently, none of them were accomplished by normal legislative means.

It is difficult to imagine Trumpism arising in the shadow of either Bill Clinton’s administration, or George W. Bush’s—or even Hillary Clinton’s, had she been elected in 2008—because all three of these figures have traditional views on coalition building, legislative authority, and (small-r) republicanism.

Yet perhaps what’s most telling about Donald Trump’s rise is that the reaction of his supporters has not been (so far) to search for a leader who will return the political order to the old equilibrium. Instead, they seem to assume that the post-Obama political world will continue along tribalistic lines. And they want their own strongman.

***

“For anybody to say he can’t win is absurd.”

***

***