The Republican establishment is nearing full-blown panic about Donald Trump

“He has a real shot at this. He is the clear front-runner,” said Ron Bonjean, a consultant and former aide to GOP leaders on Capitol Hill…

Robinson, who is not affiliated with any candidate, was scathing toward those GOP centrists who assert that Trump will be unable to translate his polling support into votes because of a weak ground game. 

“That is the wishful thinking of the establishment,” he said. “That is what they tell themselves so they can sleep at night. The truth is, Trump has one of the better ground operations in Iowa. Will he turn out every single person who shows up at his rallies? No. But if he turns out a fraction, he will roll over the field.” 

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Read these results and tell me how Trump doesn’t win the Republican nomination? I’ve been very skeptical about this all along, but I’m starting to change my mind. I think there’s at least a pretty decent chance that Trump will be the nominee…

He is favored on almost every major issue by Republican voters including immigration and terrorism by wide margins. The current terrorism scare only helps him with Republicans. They want someone who will “bomb the shit” out of the Muslim terrorists.

There is clearly strong support among Republicans for deporting 11 million illegal immigrants. They don’t provide party breakdown here, but support for this is at about 40 percent among all voters so it’s got to be a lot higher than that, maybe 60 percent, among Republicans.

If none of the totally crazy things he’s said up until now have hurt him among Republican voters, why would any crazy things he says in the next few months hurt him?

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Out in the crowds, the mix of emotions is heady, setting a Trump rally apart from those of virtually all the other Republican and Democratic White House hopefuls. The rallies combine a gleeful rejection of establishment politics, a fear that the country is about to be transformed into something un-American, and a simmering aggression toward those who dissent from Trump’s world view…

“We should be done with politicians,” Sue Remillard, 67, said, her facial expression showing disgust. “I want a change. I’m tired of politicians.”…

At the rally, Gary Johnson, 64, praised Trump as someone “not afraid to tell you how it is,” and said Trump was better suited to handle foreign policy than Carson. “I was on the fence until the whole thing with Paris, and his lack of knowledge on foreign affairs,” he said of Carson, referring to the Nov. 13 attacks in the French capital…

Some Trump supporters interviewed at Tuesday’s rally said that foreigners coming to the United States are trying to transform it beyond recognition and only Trump has the gumption to acknowledge this and stop it.

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Four months into his crazed foray into presidential politics, Trump is still winning this thing. And what could once be dismissed as a larkish piece of political performance art has seemingly turned into something darker. Pundits, even conservative ones, say that Trump resembles a fascist. The recent terrorist attacks in Paris, which some hoped would expose Trump’s shallowness, have instead strengthened him by intensifying people’s anger and fear. Trump has falsely claimed that thousands of Muslims cheered the 9/11 attacks from rooftops in New Jersey; he has declined to rule out a national database of Muslims. The other day, a reporter asked Trump if the things he was proposing weren’t just like what the Nazis did to the Jews. Trump replied, “You tell me.”…

These people aren’t skinheads. They don’t seem like jerks. Most of them are wearing jeans. There are guys with mullets and satin jackets, and well-groomed young men in blue blazers with gold buttons. There are people with babies and people with canes. There are women in plaid shirts and women in tight dresses and matrons with pearl earrings. There are trucker-hat versions of Trump’s famous Make America Great Again cap, and camo versions, and one in hunting-vest blaze orange. There are a lot of couples. They are, it is true, overwhelmingly white people. Do you have a problem with that?…

Despite all the negativity and fear, the energy in this room does not feel dark and aggressive and threatening. It doesn’t feel like a powder keg about to blow, a lynch mob about to rampage. It feels joyous.

“There is so much love in every room I go to,” Trump says, near the end of nearly an hour and a half of free-associative bombast, silly and sometimes offensive impressions, and insane pronouncements. “We want our country to be great again, and we know it can be done!”

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Just how dense are the so-called experts, who view themselves as the keepers of a GOP old guard that has failed the party and the nation during at least two successive presidential election cycles?…

The entire “establishment” attack will fall on deaf ears and, more than likely, will create a third party that will react to the attacks — not by throwing Trump aside, but by bolting to a separate movement should he lose his bid for the GOP nomination. Great strategy, D.C. insiders! Coming from the same set of failed, insulated and arrogant “Beltway Bandits” who have launched a thousand sinking ships, this would be no surprise…

I watched the GOP “establishment” brand Ronald Reagan an extremist and a nut in 1980. They highlighted his comments on communism and labor unions, and his misunderstood observation that trees contribute as much to pollution as other sources, to suggest that he was a dangerously reckless “cowboy Republican” who would bring the GOP down.

Trump is no cowboy. But the endless attacks from the effete GOP elite are all but guaranteeing him success in the months to come.

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I get the sense that GOP governors and senators are increasingly telling their local organizers, activists and contributors to stay away from Trump and, in some cases, to give money to these efforts to break Trump’s hold on the polls. They will be looking for mostly large donations to raise cash quickly. And while Trump can threaten to sue the group — as he has already threatened New Day for America — the reality is that it won’t be a flattering exercise for him, because even though his supporters obviously do like most of his bombast, threatening litigation against organizations and individuals who call him out makes the billionaire sound like a whiny bully…

Anyway, I wouldn’t say these developments suggest panic; I would just say this is the next step in the campaign. At this point, the front-runners have to be watching for the attacks to start in earnest. And by early January, whoever the front-runners are will undoubtedly see the kitchen sink coming at them. It will be interesting to witness how Trump reacts to a real political knife fight. So far, his thin skin has actually served him pretty well, as it reinforces his image as a fighter and somebody who will counterpunch.

Another question is how the law of unintended consequences will apply in this case. At this point in the campaign, every move on the chessboard will begin to affect the other pieces. As Trump sheds voters, does his support fall to Ted Cruz? In the case of Republican senators in particular, Cruz has made many bitter enemies. If Cruz starts to rise in the polls as negative ads start to wear down Trump, will the anti-Cruz forces be emboldened to start their own attack campaign? Will there be a Cruz Card LLC in the near future? Is the groundwork already being laid? It matters that Cruz has alienated his colleagues, and it will be interesting to see whether those chickens come home to roost if Cruz appears to be the beneficiary of Trump’s demise.

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Experienced GOP politicians who should have known better allowed this insurgency to push the party into a series of showdowns with Obama that Republicans could not possibly win. Having told the base that great things could be accomplished by shutting down the government or threatening default on the national debt, the establishment had to say, in effect, never mind.

Voters began to realize that they’d been had. The Republican leadership talked a good game at election time, but never delivered…

If you add it up, roughly 6 of 10 GOP voters tell pollsters they reject any candidate the Republican establishment likes. That amounts to a party in open revolt

Are voters who have been on the raucous, anything-goes Trump bandwagon for months going to fall meekly in line behind someone such as Bush or Marco Rubio? It gets harder and harder to imagine such a thing.

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Following the horrible terrorist attacks that befell Paris roughly two weeks ago, Marine Le Pen said “France and the French are no longer safe,” and added that “no matter what the European Union says about this, it is essential that France regains control of its border, for good. Without borders, there is no protection or security possible.”

This response is very much reminiscent of Trump’s rhetoric. It touches upon one’s physical safety being in jeopardy, but also an entire culture’s way of life being under attack with nowhere to hide. Following the Paris attacks, Trump also perpetuated anti-Muslim and anti-African American propaganda by claiming that he witnessed Muslims celebrating the collapse of the World Trade Center during the 9/11 attacks and by tweeting an erroneous graphic that claimed that black Americas caused over 80 percent of white deaths by homicide…

Far-right leaders seize upon violent events to rally their supporters and enhance their political influence. If their supporters engage in violence they will distance themselves from or dismiss any connection as slanderous, but if an entity they believe is unsavory inflicts harm then they will use it for their political gain. This is what Trump did with the Black Lives Matter activist protests down in Alabama. Trump said the actions of the BLM activist were “absolutely disgusting,” and that “maybe he should have been roughed up.” He stops short of telling his supporters to do it, but he does present this unarmed protester as an imminent threat that needed to be addressed with brute force.

This balancing act of always stoking fear and anxiety while only passively condoning but not discouraging violence is how dangerous far-right movements begin.

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Before wringing your hands and saying nothing like this has ever happened before, Popkin brings up the ’60s. “The Republicans are behaving the way the Democrats did in the ’60s. Young people wanted to talk about race and gender, and old people wanted to talk about union wages. Young people wanted to talk about feminism and police brutality, and forget about the unions.” Economic issues got lost, and cultural issues held sway. Oh, and the Democrats lost.

Trump supporters don’t see him as a loser. They buy into his campaign rhetoric; they believe he can do anything. “They’ve seen him so many times and he seems so competent when managing all these economic crises,” says Popkin, who remembers that for six years in the 1980s the Central Park ice-skating rink was mired in bureaucracy, “and he got it done in six months. He became a hero over that. He’s a well-known moneymaker that people have seen firing people on TV a million times. It looks awfully real to people. They’re saying exactly what they said about Ross Perot: He can’t be doing it for the money because he’s so rich. It must be public service.”…

While “horrified” by much of what Trump says, Popkin can’t help but admire the sophistication of the way he demolishes other candidates, and has remade the GOP in his image. “It’s his party now. He’s not filtering it and that may make it impossible to get beyond 30 percent of the electorate, but it’s enough to get power within the party. He matters whether or not he gets the nomination.”

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Ezra Klein:
A lot of the skepticism to Trump — and I include my skepticism here — assumes that at some point, Republican voters take the cue from Republican elites that this guy either is a bad bet in the general or ideologically untrustworthy. But I don’t know how much more strongly the Republican Party, and frankly the entire media, could be sending that signal. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a diverse array of elected officials, party influencers, and media outlets hammer home the same point so relentlessly. So I don’t know why it is that we’re confident the signal will start working given its complete and total failure up till this point.

Alan Abramowitz:
There have been very clear signals already from the Republican establishment, from Fox News, from conservative pundits — it’s been clear they think this is really bad for the Republican Party, but it hasn’t worked so far.

There have been repeated moments when Trump said something outrageous and there were predictions that this is the beginning of the end of Trump, and then he does better. This goes all the way back to his attacks on John McCain’s war record and his sexist attacks on Megyn Kelly. These things don’t seem to hurt him. Among his supporters, they take that as a sign that this is a guy who speaks his mind, says a lot of things they agree with — and besides which, who do you trust, Donald Trump or the mainstream media that is telling you he’s lying?

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If recent history is a guide, any intervention or strike by the establishment against Teflon-like Trump would only fuel his supporters

Republican strategist Ed Rollins says he doubts efforts to take down the real estate tycoon will work. “Trump’s support is different,” says Rollins, a former Ronald Reagan official who advised Mike Huckabee in 2008 and Michele Bachmann in 2012. “They already have heard all the negatives and don’t care. … Trump is running as the anti-Washington candidate, and this just makes his case: ‘Washington and the Republican establishment don’t want me because I represent you, not them!’”…

An irony of the establishment Republican efforts to take down Trump may be that Cruz becomes their most viable vessel…

“If you push him too much institutionally, you’re going to make the supporters even angrier,” Rath says. “You have to beat him on the ground.”

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Lewandowski, Trump’s campaign manager, told Breitbart News:

We have said that Mr. Trump is going to the convention. We’ve made that decision. We’ve said that publicly. We are going to the convention. If you see what we did, we’ve hired more staff in Florida this week, we’ve hired more staff in Virginia this week, we’ve hired more staff in North Carolina this week, more staff in Massachusetts this week. Those are places where traditionally they wouldn’t be working rather than just sticking in the first two or three states. The reason we have the privilege of doing that is we don’t have a resource limitation when it comes to money. With Mr. Trump self-funding his campaign we have an unlimited money supply. What is very, very important for other people in this race to understand is that if they hit Donald Trump and they attack him, he will attack them 10 times harder and he has unlimited resources to do that.”

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Michael Cohen, a senior Trump adviser, told CNN that political action committees criticizing Trump are making a “bad, bad decision” if they are joining forces to stop the billionaire real-estate tycoon from winning the GOP nomination.

“Donald Trump wants to be treated fairly,” Cohen said Tuesday. “He will demand that the GOP treat him fairly.” Cohen noted that party leaders agreed to deal with him equitably when he decided in September, along with other Republican contenders, to support the eventual Republican nominee and not run outside the GOP if he doesn’t get the nod. But “if they break that agreement with him, as they say, woe be on them,” Cohen said…

But Cohen, Trump’s adviser, said, “[Republican National Committee] Chairman Reince Priebus has an obligation to Donald Trump in order to treat him fairly, make sure the process treats him fairly. And if they don’t, if they don’t, this will be a very, very bad thing for the Republican party.”