Report: None of the remaining Republican candidates has completed a major anti-Trump opposition research effort

If you want to disbelieve this because it’s coming from HuffPo, feel free. I’m inclined to disbelieve it — not because of the source but because it cannot possibly be true that the competition failed to take Trump seriously even after his poll lead persisted throughout the fall and winter. Yet the evidence is compelling. As Sam Stein notes, you’re more likely to find basic oppo stuff on Trump, like his dubious “opposition” to the Iraq war and his sex chats with Howard Stern, on BuzzFeed than you are in a Cruz or Rubio campaign ad. If Republicans had that material, they would have used it. They must not have had it. Why not?

Trump went into the campaign lacking a sophisticated ground game. Everyone else went into it lacking a sophisticated oppo effort towards Trump. Whose oversight turned out to be worse?

Multiple Republican campaign sources and operatives have confided that none of the remaining candidates for president have completed a major anti-Trump opposition research effort. There are several such efforts being run by outside conservative organizations. But those efforts are still gathering intel on the businessman after having started late in the primary season, these sources told The Huffington Post. And they worry that it may come too late…

“Not taking Trump seriously as a candidate a year ago was a mistake we all made, so I don’t blame his Republican opponents for that. But the lack of evidence that they have been doing thorough research on Trump more recently is malpractice,” said [former DNC research director Shauna] Daly. “[I]f a Republican had committed six recent college grads to power through a Nexis dump in November and December, by January they’d have been able to compile a powerful narrative amplified by names and quotes that they could have put in ads by now.”…

Indeed, one Democratic opposition research said that they’ve spent the past eight months compiling material on Trump as he’s risen up the ranks. That’s actually not a lot of time. Democrats had started focusing on Mitt Romney in 2009 — a full two years before he ran again for the presidency. But those eight months have produced some good.

That researcher estimated that of all the material they’ve compiled — court and property records, newspaper clips and videos — approximately 80 percent of it has yet to surface in this election cycle.

Maybe that’s Democratic hype aimed at spooking the competition but it doesn’t seem implausible. Few people in America have been as famous for as long as Trump; the public record of things he’s said is almost endless, but an endless record is bound to have plenty of goodies scattered throughout. It stands to reason that there’s plenty Republicans haven’t found. The basic problem, per HuffPo, is that oppo takes time and money and none of them took Trump’s polling seriously until just a few months ago. It was reasonable as of last September to believe that Trump might still turn into Herman Cain and that Jeb Bush would reassert himself through the sheer force of his ad spending and therefore resources were better spent towards compiling attack lines against Jeb than against Trump. That was a gamble with very high stakes. That gamble has now been lost. And the donor class turned out to be too craven to bankroll a bootstrap oppo and attack ad effort against Trump in time for the first few primaries:

Republican operatives have told major donors it would require an eight-figure advertising campaign or campaigns to make any kind of dent in Trump’s surprisingly durable popularity. While many of the donors have privately voiced support for the cause, most have begged off writing big checks…

[T]hey worry that, if they fund higher-profile attacks, they could come under attack from Trump, who this week fired a warning shot at one of the few major donors to the anti-Trump efforts, Marlene Ricketts, tweeting that her family “better be careful, they have a lot to hide!”…

“We would totally donate to you if we could do it anonymously; we’re worried about Trump taking reprisals against us for donating to this,” [Liz] Mair said, parroting reactions she’s heard from donors. “Suffice to say, there are a lot of people out there who want to stop Trump and are willing to donate to do it,” she said. “They’re just the rank and file of the base, not the establishment donors.”

That’s gutless, but it tells you how confident wealthy Republicans are that Trump won’t upset their income streams as president that they’re willing to put their checkbooks away when asked to help stop him. Threaten them with an angry tweet that’s apt to be rebroadcast on CNN and they may decide that donating to stop him isn’t worth the trouble. Threaten to neuter their lobbyist connections and they’d pony up for sure. They can work with Trump, certainly more than they could with someone like Cruz.

I don’t think that completely explains the lack of oppo and outside spending either, though. Such is the devotion among Trump’s core supporters that rival campaigns seem to have convinced themselves that attacking him is pointless. That’s why Rubio is going to steer clear of Trump at the debate tonight, allegedly. Trumpism is a cult (just ask the man himself), and you’re not going to reason anyone out of their membership in a cult. You’re certainly not going to reason them out of supporting Trump by reminding them that Trump’s not a conservative, which everyone understands by now. The problem is, by treating all of his support as if it’s part of that unreachable core, you’re writing off people who may be gettable. Trump may have a floor of 33 percent but those people have been with him for months and he can’t win with them alone. To win you need to prevent him from adding new votes from people who’ve held out until now. They’re not core Trumpers; they could, in theory, be moved by the right attacks. But not if those attacks never come. And at this point, they probably never will.

The other reason you’re not seeing oppo aimed at Trump like the BuzzFeed story about him chatting about women with Stern is that I think Rubio and Cruz are deathly afraid to attack him on any grounds that might be seen as “politically correct.” That’s also why they haven’t made an issue of Trump’s alt-right fan base or the fact that David Duke is telling his fans that voting against Trump “is really treason to your heritage.” (Team Rubio did call on Trump to repudiate a robo-call effort on his behalf by white nationalists last night but I haven’t seen them flogging that issue anywhere in the media today.) Only leftists scream about racism and sexism; in a Republican primary, Rubio would lose more votes for tut-tutting Trump than Trump would lose for what he or any of his fans said. Needless to say, Hillary will not be bound by those rules and will merrily carpet-bomb Trump with stuff like that in the general election, if only as a distraction from her own multifarious character issues. It’ll be the nastiest election ever. Wear a helmet.

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