It has dawned on the Republican presidential field that Donald Trump’s inevitable self-destruction might be, gulp, evitable. Waiting for the unlikely front-runner to beat himself is starting to look like a plan, as Trump might put it, for total losers.

So the other candidates are trying various strategies to seize the initiative. Thus far, nothing seems to work…

Jeb Bush, who is supposed to be the grown-up in this race, seems not to know what to do. He has tried ignoring Trump. He has tried being nice to him, in a patronizing way. This week he went on the attack, charging that Trump is not an authentic Republican or even an authentic conservative. The problem is that many GOP voters seem to prefer an authentic Trump.

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Donald Trump is alive. It is evident that the regular rules do not apply to him. Two months into his rowdy campaign, it is instead the political media that has been leveled by Trump — floored, mystified and stupefied by a candidate who prospers where others would perish. What’s more, the press corps is beginning to realize that nothing it might do — no report it can publish, no question it can ask – has the power to push this candidate an inch off the course that is preordained for him, one which is far more likely to burn out on its own terms than flame out under some great bonfire set by the media…

“He’s not a career politician, so voters aren’t holding him to the same standards. He’s a larger-than-life figure that comes from outside politics,” said Stone. “When you combine that with voters dislike of politics, political institutions, and the media, it’s very effective.”

“He’s not a candidate,” said Brad Todd, the Republican advertising strategist. “He is a protest vehicle.”

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Ray Moore, the director of South Carolina-based Exodus Mandate (“a Christian ministry to encourage and assist Christian families to leave Pharaoh’s school system (i.e., government schools),” per its site), held a similar view. He won’t endorse a candidate, but said Trump’s appeal to evangelicals makes a lot of sense.

“They get in office and they just give us the back of the hand as soon as they get elected,” he said, referring to top Washington Republicans. “Look at the Planned Parenthood issue, they can’t seem to defund Planned Parenthood, and it’s just amazing to watch that go on for years.”…

Steve Scheffler, Iowa’s Republican National Committeeman and the head of the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition, who said that same frustration—enflamed by the failure of congressional Republicans to send Obama a bill that defunded Planned Parenthood—is common among Trump’s backers.

“They’re looking for an outlet to vent their frustrations,” he said.

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Romney didn’t just seem like the most stable figure on the debate stage; he was also the most charismatic, the most alpha if you will, the man with the strongest air of confidence and command. (Whereas Pawlenty vanished so quickly mostly because he seemed to shrink from confrontation.) There was a to-a-fault aspect to this persona: Mitt could seem too much like Hollywood’s idea of a president, almost inhuman in his square-jawed Mormon rich guy handsomeness. But as an intangible factor in the primary campaign, it played to Romney’s advantage overall, by making him always seem like the man the others had to beat.

And this just doesn’t feel like it’s going to be true with Jeb. His persona is serious and substantive, yes, in a way that contrasts effectively with Trump, but his mien and affect and looks don’t clearly elevate him in the way that Romney’s did, and indeed during the first debate he seemed more tentative than confident, more retiring than commanding. This is, of course, a very provisional judgment, with many debates to come. But I came away from the first one thinking that maybe having Trump as a foil doesn’t play to Jeb’s strengths as much as I thought it might, because Trump is so over-the-top in his bravado that he naturally pushes viewers and voters to look for someone else who, in a more electable and non-cartoonish form, can at least compete with his overripe, reality-TV, billionaire charisma.

By “compete,” to be clear, I don’t mean that they necessarily need to challenge Trump directly and defeat him in some mano-a-mano showdown. I just mean that his very presence in the debates could raise the charisma bar for the other candidates, and require them to demonstrate more in the way of sheer command than, say, George H.W. Bush needed to defeat Bob Dole or Dole need to defeat Pat Buchanan and Lamar!.

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Egged on by talk radio, cable news, right-wing blogs, and social media, the activist voters who make up the primary and caucus electorates have become angrier and angrier, not just at the Kenyan Socialist president but also at their own leaders. Promised that Obamacare would be repealed, the government would be radically reduced, immigration would be halted, and illegals punished, they see themselves as euchred and scorned by politicians of all stripes, especially on their own side of the aisle…

So is anything really different this time? I think so. First, because of the amplification of rage against the machine by social media, and the fact that Barack Obama has grown stronger and more assertive in his second term while Republican congressional leaders have become more impotent. The unhappiness with the establishment and the desire to stiff them is much stronger. Second, the views of rank-and-file Republicans on defining issues like immigration have become more consistently extreme—a majority now agree with virtually every element of Trump’s program, including expelling all illegal immigrants…

Most pundits believe that Trump has a ceiling of support around his current levels of roughly 25 percent. But if other insurgents like Cruz and Carson have their own support nearing a combined 25 percent, why can’t Trump potentially garner a solid share of their backing if they falter? Moreover, if Trump does stay at 25 percent well into the primary season, he may well secure a strong plurality of support, with a bunch of other candidates getting 5 to 15 percent, letting him stockpile a number of delegates. And he might be able to win a slew of in states where the minimum threshold for delegates is 20 percent.

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Watching Donald Trump bluster and bluff his way through a presidential campaign, I wonder if we underestimate the ways in which Internet vitriol has broadened the parameters of political debate. We are “shocked, shocked” by Trump’s language, but all of it is exactly the sort of thing anyone can encounter in the normal course of reading about politics online. John McCain isn’t a war hero? I’ll bet he finds worse insults than that on his Facebook page, and so does everybody who writes about him. All Mexicans are rapists? I open my Twitter account every morning to find similar and worse (my personal favorite, translated from Polish: “Reading what that @anneapplebaum writes I understand anti-semitism. Jews have an incredible gift for pissing you off”).

The language of online political discourse is now so extreme, and often so far divorced from reality, that Trump’s words fit right in, especially when they make no sense. Trump’s defenders—and I know because they tell me so online—say they admire him because he is allegedly “anti-establishment.” They are wrong: He isn’t anti-establishment at all. As a vastly wealthy man—as one who can invite a former president and his then-senator wife to his wedding and expect them to come—he actually lives at the very heart of a certain slice of the establishment. But of course he is different from other politicians in another sense: He is the only presidential candidate who uses, on television, the kind of language normally found in the comment section of a celebrity website or the more aggressive Reddit forums. Vulgar insults, racist slurs, manufactured “anger,” and invented “facts” are all a normal part of debate in those kinds of public spaces. Thanks to Trump, they have now migrated to presidential politics, too.

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The reality is that Americans have paid both political parties for the utopia of European-lite government. We have the largest government we’ve ever had, and yet it governs nearly nothing. Not our economy, which is stagnant. Not our place in the world, where we have lost respect. Not our fiscal affairs, where we have been rendered destitute. Not our borders, made of smoke. Not our health care, rendered increasingly unaffordable by a cynically named “Affordable Care Act.” The list of big, old, factory-like government’s broken promises is unending. Everything Washington’s elite said they would deliver, from better race relations and peace in our inner cities, to stability abroad, ends up both a larger challenge and more expensive…

As our old, inflexible government grows beyond its capacity to service a complex and adaptive society, and its failures deface our landscape, it creates demand for efficiency. Who can bring order to this chaos? Who has the guts and the strength to make the mess we have made work?

Then, the call goes out for the strongman. Who cares what he believes or promises? And with the voice of the common man, though he is anything but, the strongman comes and pledges to make America great again.

But this strongman is a wolf in custom clothing. His smile masks a hunger he cannot contain.

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Among the small cadre of political observers who believe Trump may actually do well among Latinos is Ruben Navarrette Jr., a syndicated columnist who focuses on Latino issues. “Hispanics for Trump?” he asks in USA Today. “Oh yeah. Get ready. That’s a thing.”

Navarrette has three main arguments: Trump’s Republican rivals are tiptoeing around immigration issues and “when you flinch, Hispanics notice”; Trump’s hard line on immigration actually “is not a deal killer with all Hispanics, many of whom want stricter border security”; and Hispanics are actually pretty similar to other Americans and “what appeals to many other people about Trump also appeals to them.”…

That style of projecting strength and confidence through bluster has a name, says Meg Mott, a professor of politics and gender at Vermont’s Marlboro College. “In the Spanish-speaking world, this type of leader is known as a caudillo, the man on horseback who takes out the bad guys and leads his people to safety,” Mott tells The Christian Science Monitor. “He’s rough and he doesn’t care about fine things like legal rights, but that very roughness means he can get things done.”

Caudillos originally referred to regional power players in 19th century South America with their own armies and popular appeal tied to their charisma and vague promises to make life better for the masses. The term has come to encompass any authoritarian, charismatic leader who rules with some combination of force and populist appeal. Outside Latin America, the term might be applied to former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi or Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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Donald Trump is in some respects an American version of Putin. Like the Russian leader, he seeks to reverse his country’s losses and return its former glory. He promises a restoration of power and prestige without trifling about the details…

Putin, like Trump, seems to understand that power and showmanship are inseparable, especially for a nation that is traumatized by military and economic losses. It’s a confidence game. “Within the system, Mr. Putin has developed his own idealized view of himself as CEO of ‘Russia, Inc.’ In reality, his leadership style is more like that of a mafia family Don,” write Fiona Hill and Clifford G. Gaddy in their book, “Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin.”…

What’s surprising about Trump is that he has attracted such a wide following. He’s Reagan without Reaganism, running a campaign nearly devoid of ideas. Americans have had flirtations with demagogues, from Father Charles Coughlin in the 1930s to Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s. But the bullying authoritarian personality — the Putin style — usually doesn’t work here. This summer has been an exception, but history suggests that it won’t last.

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This is jarring, or should be. It is like “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” but with divisive, politically motivated ethnic stereotyping. The Mexicans, according to Trump, are “cunning.” Latinos without papers are out to rape our women. They are predators and burdens. They are ruining the country. They. They…

When it comes to Trump, some conservatives have adopted the strategy of saying “There are some good points here, but . . . ” and “He is tapping into some real anxiety, but . . . ” It is an approach that effectively legitimizes Trump’s disturbing enterprise. He is not making a series of arguments about the role of immigration in depressing wages or increasing unemployment. He is choosing an enemy in order to organize and direct public anger. There is a difference between striking a populist chord and feeding cultural resentment with racial overtones.

Conservatives who support restrictionist immigration policies, above all, should distance themselves from Trump’s ethnic polarization. He has become the discrediting stereotype of their views, using rhetoric and arguments more suitable to European right-wing populists. Ethno-nationalist. Conspiracy-minded. All our humiliating national failures result from treacherous foreigners or a stab in the back by our own weak and corrupt leaders. All our problems can be solved by a strong leader who embodies the national will.

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Even without winning the GOP nomination, which is still a remote possibility at best, his statements have tapped into a widespread anger that has the potential to transform the Republican Party in significant ways. Ultimately, Trump presents a choice for the Republican Party about which path to follow: a path toward a coalition that is broad, classically liberal, and consistent with the party’s history, or a path toward a coalition that is reduced to the narrow interests of identity politics for white people

Trump’s brand of Jacksonian populism is perfectly tailored for this sentiment. He would throw the Constitution and the rule of law to the winds in pursuit of an aggressive promise of unilateral change – and they are fine with that. What we are hearing now from the Trump-supporting right is akin to the Roman people’s call for the dissolution of the Senate: the demand to install a strong horse, the outsider who will fix all things, the powerful man who promises he will, at long last, get things done for the people…

For those who believe Barack Obama has ruled like an Emperor, Trump offers them their own replacement who has the appeal of a traitor to his class, dispensing entirely with the politeness of the politically correct elites and telling it always and forever like it is. If the president is to be an autocrat, let him be our kind of autocrat, these supporters say. It’s our turn now, and we want a golden-headed billionaire with the restraint of the bar fly and the tastes of Caligula, gliding his helicopter down to the Iowa cornfields like a boss. He’ll show Putin what for…

A classically liberal right is actually fairly uncommon in western democracies, requiring as it does a coalition that synthesizes populist tendencies and directs such frustrations toward the cause of limited government. Only the United States and Canada have successfully maintained one over an extended period. Now the popularity of Donald Trump suggests ours may be going away. In a sense we are reverting to a general mean – but we are also losing a rare and precious inheritance that is our only real living link to the Revolutionary era and its truly revolutionary ideas about self-government.

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Right now, between 75 percent and 80 percent of the Republican electorate is not supporting Trump – and there are 10 candidates bunched up, from Chris Christie at 3.3 percent to Jeb Bush at 10.7 percent. As the field gets smaller, it will allow another candidate to surpass Trump.

And this assumes that Trump remains where he is. If this election follows the pattern of the last two Republican nomination battles, he’ll collapse as people begin to follow the race more closely…

Of all the Republican candidates, Trump is the most well known among registered voters surveyed — with just 1 percent of respondents saying they never heard of him — and respondents had an overwhelmingly unfavorable view of him, 59 percent to 36 percent. In contrast, 37 percent never heard of Scott Walker, meaning he has room to grow, whereas Trump does not…

The bottom line: Trump has nowhere to go but down.

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What Donald Trump has done so far in 2015 is totally in character with the Trump who’s been in the public eye for decades. He’s a loud voice with strong opinions and loves to be in the middle of the action. But actually putting his name on a ballot would be a strange and quixotic move.

In the Trump lexicon, the greatest insult is to call someone a “loser.” Why would 69-year-old Donald Trump voluntarily transition from business success to political loser? In The Apprentice, Trump decides who is hired and who is, famously, “fired.” He loves that role and it defines his public image. But if he actually takes this quest to a ballot, it will be the voters of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada—all those primary states—who will be interviewing Donald Trump and deciding if he should be hired or fired.

If he doesn’t win, he was fired. He didn’t get the job. Why would he put himself in that position?…

For most candidates, it might make sense to ask, “How could he not move forward without losing face?” but the whole point is that Trump isn’t a normal candidate. He went through none of the usual steps of considering a candidacy—talking to donors, conferring with party leaders, etc.—he just got in because, well, he wanted to. And so it will be when he leaves. He’ll exit when polls still show he can win and forever he will be able to argue he could have won. And in doing so, he will have won by Trump rules.

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Via the MRC.