We tend to take it for granted, but it really is remarkable how thoroughly Trump has dominated the Republican race so far.

He has gotten far more earned media than everyone else and on top of that, almost every time another candidate gets on TV, he or she has to talk about Trump. I wonder, for instance, how many times Rick Perry was on TV the last few months when he wasn’t asked at least once about Trump.

Trump is not just leading every single poll (as he likes to tell us), he has flipped around his favorable-unfavorable ratings in an unprecedented way…

It’s been an incredible performance.

***

Donald Trump’s rally at the American Airlines Center Monday night boasted the crowd size, the intensity, the hero worship and level of excitement not seen since Democrats packed Barack Obama’s rallies in 2008 and 2012…

Trump’s speech — at an hour and nine minutes, one of the longest of his campaign so far — was his trademark mix of anecdotes, observations, patriotism, boasting and policy. He started by noting that he had no teleprompter, but the point was not to make a tired Obama joke but rather to tell the audience that he would not give them the same-old same-old they hear from politicians of both parties…

All in all, it was a big, raucous crowd and a big, raucous evening — an event one might assume would make Republican Party officials deliriously happy. But Republicans aren’t used to a candidate who can draw an Obama-sized crowd. Instead of delighting GOP officials, Trump’s emergence and still-growing appeal have instead made them nervous, amid worries his penchant for controversy will eventually blow up in the party’s face.

Or perhaps they are worried that the rise of Trump diminishes the power of GOP officialdom. One person in Trump’s circle suggested as much as he watched the crowd grow Monday night. He asked, what does every chairman of the Republican Party say? They say they want to grow the party, to bring in people who haven’t been part of the GOP. And then, when Trump does it, they get all worried.

***

While the rise of Trump tends to dominate the headlines, polls like these from WaPo and the NYT provide a reminder of the big picture here for the Republican party. And that big picture is simple: The GOP establishment is on the run — and there are few signs that its members have any sort of coherent strategy to deal with the massive uprising within its ranks.

It’s not only that 53 percent of Republican voters (in the Post poll) or 50 percent of GOP voters (in the Times poll) say they are for either Trump or Carson. It’s how few Republican respondents in those same surveys say they are for the establishment choices. Jeb Bush, the man everyone assumed would be the race’s front-runner, clocks in at 8 percent in the Post poll and 6 (!) percent in the Times poll. Scott Walker, the guy who was supposed to challenge Bush for the top spot, takes 2 percent in both the Times and Post polls. TWO percent…

[I]f Trump’s rise — and his ability to sustain it — has taught me anything, it’s that recent history (or even less-recent history) is an imperfect guide to the future in an age of anger and anxiety in the electorate that we’ve not seen in decades (if ever). Things I thought I knew as facts about how politics and campaigns work have been upended by Trump and the anti-everything sentiment he has tapped into.

***

Wall Street is growing increasingly terrified that Donald Trump — once viewed as an amusing summertime distraction — could actually win the Republican nomination for president

“I held four lunches for investors in August and at the first one everyone assumed Trump would implode,” said Byron Wien, vice chairman of Blackstone Advisory Partners and a senior figure on Wall Street. “By the fourth one everyone was taking him very seriously. He taps into frustrations that are very real and he is a master manipulator of the media.”…

“I don’t know anyone who is a Donald Trump supporter. I don’t know anyone who knows anyone who is a Donald Trump supporter. They are like this huge mystery group,” the CEO said. “So it’s a combination of shock and bewilderment. No one really knows why this is happening. But my own belief is that the laws of gravity will apply and those who are prepared to run the marathon will benefit when Trump drops out at mile 22. Right now people think Trump is pretty hilarious but the longer it goes on the more frightening it gets.”…

“Yes I’m a little worried about how poorly Jeb is doing,” said a second Wall Street CEO who is backing the former Florida governor but would not speak on the record. “Hopefully it will get better over time. But there is no point trading insults with Trump. There is a saying that you don’t wrestle with pigs because you just get dirty and the pig loves it.”

***

[T]hink of “Calvinball” — the “game” from the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip in which the only standing rule is that you can’t play the same way twice.

That should give you some sense of what it’s like for the 15 Republican presidential candidates not named Donald Trump to run against the reality star and real estate mogul…

[I]t’s impossible for traditional politicians to one-up Trump unless they want to go into territory, rhetorically speaking, that only Trump can occupy. Sure, Bush can call Trump’s comments about Fiorina “small” and “inappropriate.” But Trump can call Bush a wimpy, charisma-challenged loser. Carson can wonder about Trump’s faith, but Trump can say that Carson “makes Jeb Bush look like the Energizer bunny.” Which one works better as a piece of negative rhetoric?

These other candidates can’t use this kind of rhetoric because it doesn’t really comport with their personalities.

***

To get at what makes Trump’s language different, take a look at the shape of his sentences. They don’t work the way modern political rhetoric does — they work the way punchlines work: short (sometimes very short) with the most important words at the end.

That’s rare among modern politicians, and not simply because they lack Trump’s showmanship or comedic gifts. It’s rare because most successful modern politicians are habitually careful with their language. They are keenly aware of the ways in which any word they speak may be interpreted or misinterpreted by journalists and partisan groups and constituencies and demographic groups…

Trump makes no effort — or seems to make no effort — to measure the effect of his propositions on different constituencies. He seems genuinely unaware that anybody might try to pick them apart. He makes no effort to hedge his statements or phrase them in such a way that they are at least defensible. Indeed, you don’t feel you’re listening to a politician at all. You feel you’re listening to a man who has rejected the conventions of electoral politics altogether — someone who’s opted out of the whole charade.

The result, for probably the great majority of people who follow politics, is alternately comical and horrifying. But for people who’ve grown weary of politicians using vague and convoluted language to lull or impress their listeners, to preserve their options and to avoid criticism, Trump sounds refreshingly clear and forthright. I don’t share their view, but I find it hard to blame them.

***

But he is very good to look at. Because unlike most of the other candidates, Trump shows real emotion. He’s not afraid to make himself look really ugly. And this is one of the most important components of the aura of “authenticity” Trump projects. He somehow seems genuine even when he’s obviously bullshitting, like when a supporter held up a copy of The Art of the Deal at a Michigan rally and Trump said, “That’s my second-favorite book of all time. Do you know what my first is? The Bible!” He points to the crowd, and then gives a thumbs up, smirks, and thumbs up again. “Nothing beats the Bible. Nothing beats the Bible. Not even The Art of the Deal.”

The key to Trump’s authenticity is that he actually enjoys all of this, and it’s obvious on his face. Take his performance before a massive crowd in an Alabama football stadium last month. In a bit he’s repeated dozens of times, Trump says, “Who cares if it rains, right? You know if it rains I’ll take off my hat and prove—” And he stops talking, and dramatically takes off his hat and runs his hand over his hair with great satisfaction, twice. “—I’ll prove once and for all that it’s mine.” The crowd goes crazy. All his emotions are clear right there on his face—he seems to actually enjoy the physical sensation of running his hands through his hair on stage. He pauses to savor the moment. Letting himself feel and express real emotions is one of Trump’s greatest gifts, because he seems like a real person, not a pre-taped personality. He shows joy and rage and contempt and even irony—irony while posing for photos with the American flag…

You can imagine the typical presidential candidate wants the same thing, a barrier between their true feelings and their Sunday show face. But Donald Trump doesn’t seem to want a barrier. In an interview for Bloomberg’s With All Due Respect, his expression shifts wildly as Mark Halperin and John Heilemann press him on a stupid but standard political question: What are his very favorite Bible verses? Trump refuses to answer, saying it’s “personal.” “There’s not a verse that means a lot to you that you think about or cite?” Trump smiles sarcastically. Nope. The follow-up question is whether he’s “an Old Testament guy or a New Testament guy.” Somehow the interviewers have managed to make you root for Trump to duck the question.

***

Part of what makes Trump’s insults so sticky, though, is that they are true—or at least contain a kernal of truth, intended or otherwise.

If these insults were plainly false, Trump would look ridiculous (or more ridiculous, anyhow). But examine them carefully, and it becomes clear that Trump grasps his opponents’ weaknesses and insecurities much better than they understand his. Consider the most famous Trump insult, which he first leveled (repeatedly) at Bush and has since directed at Ben Carson: Both men, he says, are too “low energy” to be president. Bush and Carson responded in different ways, but with the same basic message—“I am NOT low energy!”—that you’d expect to hear from someone correctly accused of being low energy. This compounds the problem, but it’s only a problem in the first place because both Bush and Carson are actually subdued in manner, which gives the original claim real resonance…

Trump’s first and most vocal critic, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, has already exited the race. He stood no chance against Trump’s rejoinder which, though unsubtle, tapped into something a lot of people already believed about Perry.

“He’s doing very poorly in the polls,” Trump said. “He put on glasses so people will think he’s smart. And it just doesn’t work! You know people can see through the glasses.”

***

Negging refers to a tactic used by self-styled pick-up artists and it revolves around first insulting a woman and then following up with a compliment (it is apparently a core concept of the pick-up artist’s bible, The Game). The effect, supposedly, allows shlumpy men to bat far above their average when it comes to scoring with the opposite sex…

Last night, [Trump] spoke off the cuff for well over an hour and his shtick was like classic talk radio. It was also a microcosm of his campaign presence so far. Again and again, he tossed out hostile invective that he would then subsequently minimize. For instance, he spent almost as much time talking about how much he loves the “Mexican people” as how badly we need to build a “real” wall to keep those people out of the country. He picked on his GOP rivals and his Democratic rivals, and he was forever citing unnamed people that he talked to “just the other day” whose travails and situations just happened to prove his point about the need for trade barriers, strong leadership, or whatever…

Both practitioners and critics of negging grant that it works on people “still seeking love and approval at all costs from the world, from their substitute father figure, or from themselves” and folks with “low self-esteem.”…

Are we that sad as a country that we really are ready to be lead by a know-nothing blowhard who expertly and strategically mixes insults and compliments like some pimple-faced pick-up artist cruising closing-time at a bar?

***

With Trump, the rules have changed. So far, he has proven to be largely immune from attack, and also a master killer himself, with a unique political arsenal. With a few months to go before voters vote, Trump has squashed the poll numbers and personas of a host of his rivals, without resorting to significant traditional opposition research, paid media, or surrogates. He simply uses Instagram, Twitter, and his virtually unlimited access to the news media to unsheathe his sharp tongue, cutthroat sensibility, and unerring perverse humor. And Trump can shift to kill mode without strain or hesitation…

Trump’s gotta-be-me strategy works in part because he so relentlessly remains on the offense and dominates the campaign dialogue. In terms of pure candidate skills, Trump is a virtuoso—in a few key ways better than even Bill Clinton, especially when aiming to make an opponent lose control of his or her public image. When Trump throws a jibe (often laced with humor), it comes off as something Trump truly believes in his head and his gut, increasing its effectiveness. It consequently resonates with the public as true. And the bluntness of the delivery discombobulates Trump’s targets. The Donald knows when he’s scored a point and stays on it. When he misfires, he adjusts, without the need for focus group testing…

Can Trump be killed? The history of past nomination fights suggest he can be. The untraditional front-runners of the summer silly season have always swiftly fallen to the back of the pack—or out of the race altogether—in the fall. But we are in uncharted territory now, with a canny celebrity front-runner who combines an unprecedented and nearly unlimited access to both social and traditional media with a completely sui generis gift for attack and counterpunch politics. The three-month whirlwind since he entered the race demonstrates that of all Trump’s extraordinary talents, master of kill-or-be-killed might be his most decisive—and the single most important factor in determining whom the Republican Party nominates for president next year.

***

In a country with more than 300 million people, it is remarkable how obsessed the media have become with just one — Donald Trump. What is even more remarkable is that, after six years of repeated disasters, both domestically and internationally, under a glib egomaniac in the White House, so many potential voters are turning to another glib egomaniac to be his successor…

It is easy to understand why there would be pent-up resentments among Republican voters. But are elections held for the purpose of venting emotions?…

Even if Trump himself does not end up as the Republican nominee for the presidency, he will have done a major disservice to both his party and the country if his grandstanding has cost us a chance to explore in depth others who may include someone far better prepared for the complex challenges of this juncture in history…

Donald Trump is not the only obstacle to finding leaders of such character. The ultimate danger lies in the voting public themselves.

***