About three quarters of Republican early-state insiders say they believe Donald Trump has peaked — but many acknowledge that may also be wishful thinking

“The McCain smear and giving out Graham’s cellphone? What an asshole,” vented a New Hampshire Republican, who says Trump has peaked. “Trumpism does not represent some deeper sentiment within the party, nor has he tapped into something a more conventional candidate can now co-opt. His candidacy has as much substance and meaning as cotton candy. I didn’t like him before. Now I loathe him.”

An Iowa Republican said, “yes,” when asked whether Trump has hit his zenith, but clarified, “I’d like to think so. But who the hell really knows anymore?”…

“GOP establishment (especially in early states) and some media are in a panic right now about Trump, and are quick to develop a storyline that he can’t last,” said a New Hampshire Democrat, who like all participants answered through an online submission form. “The truth is otherwise. The base loves him, he keeps showing top tier status nationally and in early states, he (like Hillary) has 100 percent name ID, and unlike all others, doesn’t need either traditional donors or dark money ones. While there are some parallels to [Ross] Perot, this is a new phenomenon and existing precedent doesn’t apply. Who knows where this goes?”

In the 2008 cycle, Gargiulo backed Mitt Romney, whose cautious campaign style helped him land the Republican nomination. Now, he’s the co-chair of Trump’s campaign in Rockingham County, and he seems to feel liberated.

“People are tired of same-old, same-old, the political games that exist in Washington, in the state capitals, and are looking for someone who says it like it is,” he said. “And Donald Trump certainly does it.

For what it’s worth, Gargiulo also believes that Trump’s appeal is broader than many observers think.

“I have to tell you, it goes across the spectrum,” he said. “Supporters of Mr. Trump go from very conservative Tea Party people to mainstream Republicans to — all! I’ve seen, in fact a number of Democrats who are beginning to take notice.”

While all economic indicators suggest growth will continue to accelerate, in contrast to the recessionary months of Perot’s campaign in 1992, Trump can still appeal to frustrated voters because is there is huge unrest within an electorate struggling with the new normal of ongoing insecurity for the middle class and growing divisions between the rich and poor. The combination of demagogic populist appeals and the lure of his claim that somehow a business person would instinctively do a better job running the government will have appeal to some on the right…

At the same time, Trump could easily turn his attention back to more business-friendly elements of conservatism, such as fighting against tax increases and regulation, which could attract wealthier suburban voters and business leaders who are uncomfortable with the social and cultural conservatism of a Ted Cruz.

Trump can also hurt the ability of Republicans to build a broader electoral base by continuing to convey the association of “conservatism” with the more radical elements of the political electorate, as he has done recently with his statements about immigration and in previous years with his support for the “birther” issue. While he wouldn’t be running as a Republican, he would bring down the brand name of the ideology the party sells.

Another problem has to do with the media. Whoever runs for the GOP will need as much media attention as they can get. For all her flaws, Hillary Clinton commands an overwhelming position in the public imagination. She is a known commodity and she is someone who has been a prominent figure in national politics for decades. To the extent that Trump takes away airtime, Republicans, who are less known in the electorate, might find themselves struggling to gain traction on television and online.

There are similarities between the two men in wealth and ego, and in the tightfistedness of the very rich when it comes to parting with their own money. Rollins had proposed to Perot a $150 million media campaign with Hal Riney, creator of Reagan’s “Morning in America” ads, at the helm. Perot balked. He wasn’t going to spend money on all those longhaired hippies behind the cameras when he could go on Larry King for nothing.

Perot was very tight with the dollar, and a third-party bid is expensive. He wasn’t willing to spend the money. Trump is much more savvy than Perot ever was. “Trump is very reluctant to spend his money, but he’s been through the wars, he’s used to being battered around,” says Rollins. “Perot didn’t understand advertising and PR. He didn’t understand the presidency, and he had very little substance.”

Trump knows the game. The big question for him is how far he will take his candidacy in terms of dollars he will put on the line. “No one knows how much Trump is willing to spend,” says Rollins. “I think at this point he’s a distraction. The potential is there for him to be a very destructive force in the party. The country is pretty disgusted with politicians, and that’s what he’s tapping into.”…

Republican pollster Frank Luntz worked with the Perot campaign, and said in an email that Trump has “all the advantages Perot had…and one more that Perot didn’t. He has the thickest skin of anyone I’ve ever seen in politics. Nothing bothers him, and you need that fortitude to be a successful third-party candidate.”

Donald Trump is making noise about an independent bid for president. If the Republican National Committee doesn’t treat him fairly, Trump says, he’ll be more likely to launch a third-party run. I don’t know if he is at all serious, but I do know two things: History suggests that an independent Trump campaign would crash and fail; polling suggests that even if that happened, Trump could take the Republican candidate down with him…

Trump, on the other hand, could make a difference even if he experienced an Anderson-like slide to only 5 percent of the vote. If 70 percent of Trump’s vote comes from the Republican candidate (as it does in the ABC News/Post survey), we can estimate that the Democratic nominee’s chance of winning would rise from 50 percent (FiveThirtyEight’s default in a non-incumbent election) to 63 percent.


Well, we’re told, people are choking on political correctness and Trump is breath of fresh air. So the best way to discredit political correctness is to embody the worst stereotype of an aggressive bigot?

Trump’s moment is probably fading, but his little balloon ride is disturbing nonetheless. It’s evidence that political intemperance is not limited to the Left

The only answer to division and hatred on the left is inclusion and unity on the right. A number of Republican candidates for president have been seeking to recast the Republican party as the party of reform and outreach. They recognize that a party that lost not just the Hispanic vote, the black vote, the women’s vote, and the youth vote, but also the Asian vote has an image problem. As any number of successful Republican senators and governors have shown, it isn’t necessary to adopt any particular policy (e.g. amnesty) to attract the votes of more Hispanics or Asians. It is necessary for the party to convey a welcoming spirit. Such a tone may even attract fence-sitting white voters, who are left cold by a party that appears uninterested in the plight of the poor.

That is the Republican challenge and opportunity. Success beckons — but only post-Trump.

In secular America, one of the most broadly accepted ways to describe Trump is with swear words. People straining to be decent often resort to calling him an ass. But in Christian America, there’s another term of opprobrium that gets more to the heart of the matter. It’s not just that Trump’s campaign revolves around his harsh and ungenerous demeanor. It’s that he’s all about sowing discord. It’s what he does. It’s who he is.

And sowing discord, in the Christian imagination, isn’t just mean or nasty. It’s evil…

Trump’s candidacy, Perry went on, “cannot be pacified or ignored, for it will destroy a set of principles that has lifted more people out of poverty than any force in the history of the civilized world — the cause of conservatism.” In sum? Trump’s evil ways tempt Republicans to turn away from their greatest moral purpose — a sin worthy of damnation.

Perry is the first to advance this argument so bluntly. But we can expect it to catch on, because Trump’s candidacy is forcing the base’s hand. If The Donald can keep up his numbers without a come-to-Jesus moment, that either means that the base has become a lot less religious, or that it’s so frustrated that it’s willing to cast aside the better angels of its nature.

The media, you may have noticed, is full of Trump—explanations of Trump, denunciations of Trump, justifications of Trump, analyses of Trump, handwringing about the coverage of Trump, and accounts of the latest outrageous thing Trump has done. He is on the front page of every newspaper, the top of every newscast. They can’t believe it; they can’t get their heads around it, that this is happening, and not only is it happening, it is the biggest thing in American politics right now. It has consumed American politics. It—Trump—is bigger than the entire rest of the Republican field, which, by the way, has 15 other people in it—governors, senators, very big, very serious people. Trump is bigger than them all…

Trump has the Republican Party by the throat. It cannot figure out how to get rid of him. The party elites, those snobs in D.C. who do not respect or understand the people out there in America, are tearing their hair out over the damage Trump is supposedly doing to the party. “He is, I believe, causing some problems,” Randy Blair, the county Republican chairman, a polite, mustached accountant in a gray-tweed suit, tells me as we ride on Trump’s bus…

Yet the party has no power over Trump. He has the money, he has the press, he has the voters. If he does not feel the GOP is treating him fairly, he is considering running as an independent instead. In that case, polls indicate he would take a chunk of votes from the Republican candidate, and Hillary Clinton would win by a large margin.

So the party has to be nice to him; it has to let him on the stage. The 20 percent of the party that loves Trump may be dumb or racist or angry or wrong, but the Republican Party cannot live without them. The GOP is damned if Trump stays and damned if he goes, and no one knows how the show will end.

What Republicans are trying to figure out is not so much how to handle Trump as how to handle his supporters. Ignore or confront? Mock or treat seriously? Insult or persuade? The men and women in the uppermost ranks of the party, who have stood by Trump in the past as he gave them his endorsements and cash, are inclined to condescend to a large portion of the Republican base, to treat base voters’ concerns as unserious, nativist, racist, sexist, anachronistic, or nuts, to apologize for the “crazies” who fail to understand why America can build small cities in Iraq and Afghanistan but not a wall along the southern border, who do not have the education or skills or means to cope when factories move south or abroad, who stare incomprehensibly at the television screen when the media fail to see a “motive” for the Chattanooga shooting, who voted for Perot in ’92 and Buchanan in ’96 and Sarah Palin in ’08 and joined the Tea Party to fight death panels in ’09.

These voters don’t give a whit about corporate tax reform or TPP or the capital gains rate or the fate of Uber, they make a distinction between deserved benefits like Social Security and Medicare and undeserved ones like welfare and food stamps, their patriotism is real and nationalistic and skeptical of foreign entanglement, they wept on 9/11, they want America to be strong, dominant, confident, the America of their youth, their young adulthood, the America of 40 or 30 or even 20 years ago. They do not speak in the cadences or dialect of New York or Washington, their thoughts can be garbled, easily dismissed, or impugned, they are not members of a designated victim group and thus lack moral standing in the eyes of the media, but still they deserve as much attention and sympathy as any of our fellow citizens, still they vote…

Our political commentary is confused because it conceives of the Republican Party as a top-down entity. It’s not. There are two Republican parties, an elite party of the corporate upper crust and meritocratic winners that sits atop a mass party of whites without college degrees whose worldviews and experiences and ambitions could not be more different from their social and economic betters. The former party enjoys the votes of the latter one, but those votes are not guaranteed. What so worries the GOP about Donald Trump is that he, like Ross Perot, has the resources and ego to rend the two parties apart. If history repeats itself, it will be because the Republican elite was so preoccupied with its own economic and ideological commitments that it failed to pay attention the needs and desires of millions of its voters. So the demagogue rises. The party splits. And the Clintons win.

“I don’t know,” Trump said during a telephone interview with MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “I’m just chugging along. You know, maybe people will get tired of me. Who knows? This press is crazy.”