Republican elites are 0-for-2 in presidential nominating contests this year, a rare and panic-inducing outcome for the party’s leadership. Yet their preferred candidates continue to fight each other, and have begun the march to the next battlefield in South Carolina without a plan to stop Donald Trump

With plenty of campaign cash to spare, Trump is pushing the kind of America-first message that resonates in South Carolina, a state that flew the Confederate flag on its Capitol’s grounds until last year. The primaries beyond are just as southern and just as friendly to Trump’s message. And he remains an extremely difficult candidate to beat in a war of words and media attention…

The anxiety has grown more palpable as Trump has shattered predictions that his crowds and poll numbers wouldn’t translate at the ballot box…

[E]xit polls in the party’s center-right New Hampshire base revealed no obvious weaknesses for Trump. He won voters across age groups, income levels, gender, marital status and ideologies; he even won independents. National polls say Trump is dominating among self-identified moderate Republicans, the group that the establishment-friendly candidates are also gunning for.

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Every Republican candidate who finished first and second in Iowa and New Hampshire has won the presidential nomination. Having done so, Trump is now in a class with Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, George W. Bush, and Mitt Romney. John McCain was a partial exception in 2000, having basically skipped Iowa and then won in New Hampshire. And it doesn’t matter where the first and second place finishes occurred. Reagan was second in Iowa in 1980, then won New Hampshire. Dole won Iowa in 1996 and settled for second to Pat Buchanan in New Hampshire.

That New Hampshire failed to force all the marginal candidates out of the race is a boon for Trump. There’s still no single “establishment” candidate to oppose him. There are three, maybe four, and they’re fighting each other, not Trump. This is important. If Jeb Bush is still running when the Florida primary occurs on March 15, he’ll split the establishment vote with Marco Rubio. And Trump will win Florida. A similar situation will exist in Ohio if Kasich, the state’s governor, hangs around. Kasich and Rubio and maybe Bush will form a circular firing squad. Should Trump win both states, the race is over…

The Trump magic appears to be spreading to states with upcoming primaries. A political group polling in House races found recently that Trump’s lead in Alabama and North Carolina is roughly 2-to-1. That’s what Trump beat runner-up Kasich in New Hampshire…

The message to Republican leaders from New Hampshire is this: you’d better start figuring out how to help Donald Trump win the general election because he’s probably going to be your presidential nominee.

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Why does the mainstream media heap such scorn and disbelief on Donald Trump over his promise to build a great wall along the border with Mexico — and make Mexico pay for it? After all, Donald Trump has built a winning presidential campaign — and made the media pay for it

The last time a secular, loud, brash New Yorker who was leading in all the national polls faced Iowa Republican voters — former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani in 2008 — he got truly schlonged. Mr. Giuliani came in sixth place with only 4 percent of the vote…

If Rudy Giuliani had done as well in Iowa as Trump did, the media would have declared him the winner and he very likely would rushed through New Hampshire and South Carolina on waves of positive press and his ultimate gambit of winning it all in Florida very likely could have worked. In other words, if Mr. Giuliani had done as well as Mr. Trump did in Iowa, we quite possibly would be referring to him now as former President Giuliani…

Perhaps the sweetest thing out of New Hampshire is how the media will be forced to spin the results. They will, of course, try to minimize Mr. Trump’s thumping.

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Trump’s 18-point victory and the self-described democratic socialist’s 21-point win are reminders of the limits of party power in an age of anger toward Washington and frustration with politics…

On Tuesday, establishment-minded Republicans from New Hampshire expressed a mix of frustration and shame that it was their state that delivered Trump’s first victory. “I refuse to support him under any circumstance,” said Fergus Cullen, a former New Hampshire Republican Party chairman. “Trump would be a disaster.”

Cullen likened Trump to Pat Buchanan in 1996, the divisive former Nixon aide and conservative commentator who also won the New Hampshire primary. GOP leaders quickly coalesced behind mainstream alternative Bob Dole, the former Republican Senate leader who went on win the nomination.

“The party was able to stop Buchannan 20 years ago,” Cullen said. “Today, they’re incapable of doing it.”

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Trump’s political skills are considerably better than either Buchanan’s or Paul’s. He has the ability to command the national media’s attention pretty much whenever he wants to, and he has improved as a debater and speaker. Furthermore, Trump’s lack of allegiance to traditional Republican policy positions allows him to adapt himself as he sees fit — a characteristic more associated with shape-shifting, coalition-building candidates like Romney than agenda-driven ones like Paul. Trump’s support also cuts relatively evenly across different demographic groups, another front-runner characteristic…

If you could somehow combine Rubio’s likability and appeal to conservatives, Kasich’s policy smarts and post-New Hampshire momentum, and Bush’s war chest and organization, you’d have a pretty good candidate on your hands. But instead, these candidates are likely to spend the next several weeks sniping at one another. The circular firing squad mentality was already apparent in New Hampshire, where fewer advertising dollars were directed against Trump despite his having led all but one poll of the state since July. Trump has also been attacked less than Rubio and Cruz in recent debates…

By the time that consolidation happens, however, Trump and Cruz will have swept up quite a few delegates. And whichever Republican emerges from the “establishment” pack isn’t necessarily a favorite to beat Trump one-on-one (or Trump and Cruz in a three-way race).

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For the past several months, the smartest of the Trump doubters have based their case on Trump’s relatively low ceiling of support. Yes, he’s leading the polls in a very crowded field, but that ceiling (never higher than the mid-30s) is unlikely to go much higher, and certainly not past a majority in any state. As soon as the non-Trump vote falls in behind an establishment candidate, he’ll be beaten.

But what if that doesn’t happen before the GOP primaries become winner-take-all in mid-March? In that case, Trump is going to start piling up an awful lot of delegates, even if his share of the popular vote never rises above 40 percent. That might not be enough to clinch the nomination, but it would be enough to give us the most riveting political convention in a very long time…

But there is, of course, another possibility: the catastrophe of Donald Trump winning the nomination outright and competing head-to-head with the Democratic nominee to become president of the United States.

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“I think if Trump is the front-runner on March 15 and there are still 2-3 other candidates in the race, it¹s very difficult,” Katie Packer, who runs the anti-Trump Our Principles PAC, told MSNBC…

[S]ome “proportional” states require candidates meet a minimum threshold to receive any delegates, a rule that means the top performer can rack up a significant delegate lead with only a strong plurality vote. In other words, the kind of lead Trump held in New Hampshire against divided opposition.

Sam Wang, a professor at Princeton University analyzing the race, estimates that a candidate could take 50 percent of the delegates during this period with only 30 percent of the vote on average so long as there are four or more candidates running. This is more than in line with Trump’s national polling average.

The point of no return is most likely the March 15 contest, which includes critical winner-take-all contests in Ohio and Florida. Nearly 60 percent of the delegates will have been awarded at that point, making it hard to catch Trump if he’s amassed a solid lead.

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That’s what has establishment Republicans so freaked out about Trump: He shows no commitment to core conservative policy dogma, on economics or anything else. Democrats can attack him for being very, very rich, but if he won there’s no guarantee he would actually represent rich people’s interests. Sure, he’ll put out a perfunctory tax plan saying he’ll cut rates, but he’ll also promise trade wars and pledge not to cut Social Security and Medicare…

Nevertheless, it’s ironic that of all the Republicans, the one who has the most appeal to working people may be the one who sees ostentatious displays of wealth as a brand-building project. That may be part of what insulates him: Unlike Mitt Romney, Trump doesn’t try to play down his fortune, but instead offers it up as an object of aspiration. As I’ve argued before, what Trump enacts is in many ways a poor person’s idea of what a rich person is like, a comically over-the-top version of great wealth. Many people look at his ornate houses and private plane and rotating cast of Eastern European model wives, and say not “What a rich jerk,” but rather, “If I had a billion dollars, that’s what I’d do too.”

Democrats will, of course, try to portray Trump as just another iteration of the plutocrat Republicans they’ve struck down so many times before. In fact, they’re already preparing the opposition research necessary to do just that. But it would be truly something if the way Republicans finally convinced voters not to see them as just the party of the rich was to nominate a billionaire and just wait around to see what happens.

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His supporters believe that Trump will fight for them, and they have no such confidence in his GOP rivals. The voters flocking to Trump believe that they’ve been lied to and betrayed by conventional politicians, and that he is offering them the unvarnished truth…

Trump is a traitor to his class, who rails against hedge funders and the executives of drug companies for manipulating the political process to enrich themselves at the expense of ordinary Americans. These are the very same people you’d expect Trump to dine with at Mar-a-Lago, and here he is declaring war on them. The fact that his tax plan would “be a huge windfall for private equity and hedge funds,” in the words of Len Burman, director of the Tax Policy Center, is almost immaterial to the people who support him. There is something strange and compelling about seeing a billionaire declare war on his own kind…

Imagine how dangerous Trump would be if he were more disciplined and focused, and if he had serious prescriptions for how to make the global economy work for Americans in the bottom two-thirds of the income distribution. For now, however, Trump is on a mission of destruction: He is demonstrating the weakness of the Republican donor class, which has barely dented him over months of campaigning, and he is forcing orthodox conservatives to question the agenda they’ve been advancing for decades as they see rank-and-file GOP voters reject it in large numbers. I hate Trump far less than I hate the Republicans who’ve paved his way. And if Trump goes down in flames, as I still believe he will, the Republican Party must never forget the Rust Belt Americans he’s inspired—because if they do, there will be another Trump waiting in the wings.

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Trump’s supporters like the fact that he’s rich, blunt, and hasn’t spent his life in politics. But his pledges to keep the rest of the world at bay are core to his appeal. In New Hampshire, Trump lost to John Kasich by 12 points among voters who oppose banning Muslims from entering the United States. But among voters who favor the ban, Trump beat him by 33 points. Trump and Kasich tied among voters who believe undocumented immigrants should have a path to legalization. But among voters who want to deport the undocumented, Trump won by 43 points…

Despite their victories in New Hampshire, it’s still unlikely either Sanders or Trump will win their party’s nomination. But their success says something profound about the shifting identities of the two political parties. While grassroots Democrats and Republicans remain divided over the size of government, increasingly, what divides them even more is American exceptionalism. In ways that would have been unthinkable in the mid-20th century, the boundaries between American and non-American identity are breaking down. Powered by America’s secular, class-conscious, transnational young people, Democrats are embracing an Americanism that is less distinct than ever before from the rest of the world. And the more Democrats do, the more likely it is that future Trumps will rise.

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The Republican Party has no idea who Trump supporters might be. That may be why the Trump rebellion exists in the first place. Like Pat Buchanan in 1996, Donald Trump’s populist, blue-collar-focused campaign carried the Granite State.

What does it mean? The Republican National Committee did a post-2012 election analysis. Their recommendations for winning future general elections could not have been more congenial to the Republican donor class: Ditch any hint of immigration restrictionism, and play down social issues. Iowa and New Hampshire voters have rebuked this strategy…

Trump did not do the normal events bagging groceries in New London shops. He did not do little evening strolls at winter festivals, or barnstorm the state with townhall events. He did not raise money from the normal Republican donors, or get policy and speechmaking advice from its class of conservative intellectuals and courtiers. He only realized this week that well-worn campaign clichés about having a “ground game” in a state referred to actual things like a get-out-the-vote operation. He broke every rule in the game and won easily.

Right now, the only effective counter-move to his hostile takeover of the party is to give in to the other hostile takeover led by Ted Cruz.

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“We got a standing ovation for doing that. Everybody was up and down, standing, screaming. It was an amazing event. And it’s one of the reasons I won. You have to be yourself,” Trump said about the infamous use of the word ‘pussy’ at a campaign event.