Donald Trump’s eccentric presidential run is looking more like a standard campaign every day

The latest evidence came in Thursday’s third-quarter FEC report, which showed a $3.9 million haul, mostly from small donors, and spending on many of the trappings of a typical presidential campaign: $40,000 on ballot access consulting, $7,500 on policy consulting and payments to a growing roster of staffers and consultants in early voting states…

In New Hampshire, where Trump was the first candidate to bring on paid staffers, the state headquarters in Manchester buzzes with the coming and going of volunteers. When Trump is not in town, his New Hampshire campaign continues its work, said veteran Republican strategist Dave Carney, who remains neutral and whose wife Lauren is Carly Fiorina’s New Hampshire state director.

“They’re doing what the average campaign is doing for sure. Maybe more,” said Carney.

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“Trump is a serious player for the nomination at this time,” says Ed Rollins, who served as the national campaign director for Reagan’s 1984 reelection and as campaign chairman for Mike Huckabee in  2008.

Rollins is not alone in his views. “Trump has sustained a lead for longer than there are days left” before voting begins in Iowa, says Steve Schmidt, who managed John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. “For a long time,” Schmidt says, “you were talking to people in Washington, and there was a belief that there was an expiration date to this, as if there’s some secret group of people who have the ability to control the process.”…

Trump is not the only candidate who lacks political experience, and Pew’s findings help to explain why the retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson is surging in the polls as well. But Trump has done something they haven’t, something that now-former presidential candidate Scott Walker demonstrated is difficult to do — sustain the momentum he developed in the weeks after he launched his campaign.

Republican strategists say that momentum is key to notching wins in the early primary states, which themselves are essential to securing victories later on. “He has the potential to win Iowa and New Hampshire and more,” says Rollins. “No one seems to be developing to challenge him at this time.”

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Both the Bush and the Rubio campaigns are motivated by an unshakeable conviction that Trump will eventually decline. That conviction is shared by most political insiders. Perhaps it is correct, although each day forces those insiders to adjust their estimate of how long Trump can stay aloft.

In the meantime, the would-be frontrunners, Jeb and Marco, are reduced to bragging about flying commercial and taking UberX. The donors will apparently be pleased.

But it won’t solve Bush’s and Rubio’s problem. At the moment, Trump is leading because he seems big and they seem small. More voters believe Trump will be a stronger leader than either Bush or Rubio. Trump’s put-downs of both men — that Bush is “low energy” and that Rubio is a “little boy” — are outrageous but effective ways of reinforcing voter concerns that Bush doesn’t have the drive to be president and Rubio doesn’t have the maturity.

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Of the major candidates, Trump spent the least. Sure, it’s true that some of Trump’s low spending has to do with the fact that, unlike anyone else on that chart, he is almost entirely self-funding his campaign. Without the need to hold fundraisers (or employ fundraising consultants) you can keep costs down.

But, even with that caveat, the fact that Trump has spent so little to get SO much is remarkable. He is in first place in every single national and key-early-state poll I have seen and he continues to dominate the conversation about the race. Not only is he dominating the conversation about the race, but he has also started to dictate the terms. Twenty-four hours after Trump floated the idea of skipping the next debate, sponsored by CNBC — because, among other things, it was too long — CNBC announced that the debate would run only two hours.

The return on Trump’s investment — if you judge returns by winning, which he, of course, does — at the moment is astronomical. He spent roughly a third as much as Jeb Bush did over the past three months even as the former Florida governor watched his polls numbers sink, both nationally and in places such as Iowa and New Hampshire.

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[T]here’s a crucial difference between Trump and Giuliani. Though Giuliani outperformed all other candidates nationally, he never polled as well in the early primary states, which are ultimately much more important. Giuliani never led in Iowa or New Hampshire beyond a short period in the spring of 2007, and was never ahead by more than a few points in South Carolina polling.

In contrast to Giuliani in 2007, Trump not only leads nationally, but in the individual states. He leads by 5.6 points in Iowa, and by double digits in New Hampshire and South Carolina.

At the same time, Trump has been building a stronger organization in the early states than Giuliani, who pinned his hopes on winning Florida. But he was essentially out of the race by the time the race made it to the Sunshine State.

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There’s no way of knowing for sure if Bush could have stopped the September 11 attacks. But that’s not the right question. The right question is: Did Bush do everything he could reasonably have to stop them, given what he knew at the time? And he didn’t. It’s not even close…

When Donald Trump hurls insults at his opponents, respectable people generally roll their eyes. But it is precisely Trump’s refusal to be respectable that helps him spark debates that elites would rather avoid. And sometimes, those debates are important to have.

Given that George W. Bush’s advisers still dominate the Republican foreign-policy establishment—an establishment that has not broken with his ideological legacy in any fundamental way—his record both before and after 9/11 remains relevant to the terrorism debate today. For many years now, that foreign-policy establishment has insisted that questioning Bush’s failure to stop the September 11 attacks constitutes an outrageous slur. That’s why Fleischer is now calling Trump a “truther.” He’s purposely blurring the line between accusing Bush of having orchestrated the attacks and accusing Bush of having been insufficiently vigilant in trying to stop them. But Bush was insufficiently vigilant. The evidence is overwhelming.

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Jeb Bush apparently finds a few things to like about Donald Trump.

I admire the fact that he is politically incorrect. I think we’re a little too uptight as a nation,” the former Florida governor said in an interview with “CBS This Morning.”

He added, “I admire the fact that he doesn’t feel embarrassed about his wealth.”

“What else do I admire about him? Let me think,” Bush said with a grin. “I’m running out of things. He’s got a great family.”

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The GOP establishment, already reeling from the surprise defeat of former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in Virginia last year and the announcement late last month that John Boehner will soon give up both his House seat and his speakership, has been caught flat-footed by the rise of Trump and the other nonprofessional politicians and is desperately seeking a way to stop them.

Measures being bruited now include making candidates swear fealty to whomever turns out to be the nominee, and pledge not to run as a third-party candidate. Failure to do so would be punished by loss of ballot access…

So the GOP is now facing its worst nightmare: What if Trump is for real? That behind all the bluster, beneath the weird hair, is a guy who just might be able to clean out the Augean stables of the Permanent Bipartisan Fusion Party that continues to cling to power in Washington.

The Democrats — with their eminently indictable presumptive nominee, Hillary Clinton — don’t like the idea of fundamental change any better than the Republicans. They prefer GOP opponents who don’t fight back, lose gracefully, and keep their seats at the national trough.

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Over the weekend I talked to a leading conservative who opposes Trump. I asked what would happen if January comes and Trump is still dominating the race. Would he and other conservatives make their peace with Trump’s candidacy, or would there be massive resistance?

“Massive resistance,” was the answer. “He’s not a conservative.”…

“I don’t think Trump can withstand 10,000 points of smart negative in Iowa and New Hampshire,” says one veteran Republican strategist who is not affiliated with any campaign. “It would force him to spend money. That’s when this starts to get real for him.” (“Points” refers to gross ratings points, a way of measuring TV ad buys; 10,000 points would be a really big buy, meaning the average viewer would see an anti-Trump ad many, many times.)…

The triggers for the anti-Trump onslaught would likely be: 1) if next month arrives with Trump still in the lead, and 2) if Trump begins airing his own ads. “Once that starts, you’ll see a lot of people saying we’ve waited long enough,” notes McIntosh.

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But, like many successful businessmen, the real estate developer and GOP pack leader—who often espouses his disdain for “losers”—does not see every venture and contest through to the bitter end. Throughout his career, Trump has demonstrated wild enthusiasm at the start of big projects, and ruthlessly pursued a profit agenda that, in many cases, has led him to ditch the deal when the risks, whether financial or reputational, start to outweigh the prospective reward.

From a casino in French Lick, Indiana, to a dispute with condo owners in Panama and even in renewing “The Apprentice” reality show on NBC, Trump has time and again spotted the point of diminishing returns and quit.

This business record could shed light on Trump’s willingness to fight on and put more of his personal fortune on the line as the presidential contest shifts into the primary phase. In national polls, he’s already come down several points from his September peak, and Ben Carson has risen to within striking distance. Should Trump fall from first place or find himself in the middle of a protracted dogfight for the nomination, the complications and cost associated with a winning campaign organization would expand. And that could change his calculations…

“If he’s not going to win the primary, then why would he continue to use up his own time and resources?” says Garten, adding, “If he’s not going to win the nomination, then he’ll go back to running his successful business. To me that’s a testament to what he’s built.”

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One day, we ran into a skinny, intellectual-type outside Le Club. Harvard guy. He didn’t look so tough; more like a golfer. Next thing we know, he was blitzing us like he was flying Air Force One. Obamacare, trade deals, Planned Parenthood funding, debt limit increases, a zillion Executive Orders. That dude sky-jammed everything he wanted down our nets.

My boyfriend did nothing except say, “We’ll get him next time.” But the dude kept raining dunks on us. I wanted a real man to stand up for me but my old boyfriend was busy playing fantasy football and growing facial scruff, or posing in front of a mirror at the gym…

Then Donald came along. And he doesn’t indulge in fantasy football. He plays tackle.

Brioni leather jacket. Killer Harley, dripping chrome. Whatever he wants, he takes, and it is his. Want to see my tattoo? He made me get a “Trump Stamp” because he puts his name on everything he claims…

He’s my bad biker boyfriend — but some people out there are worse. And my old boyfriend can’t protect me from them…

Donald is mine and I am his and people better get used to it. He’s the one I’m going to marry. And that’s something nobody in Le Club is going to change.

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Via MFP.