“I don’t think anybody thought he would take off the way he has, and there was never a strategy meeting where people said, ‘Donald Trump is going to be a serious force,’” one GOP official in Washington told HuffPost in recalling the weeks after Trump entered the race leading up to the exchange with Priebus. “I think when Trump slapped Reince back and just dismissed him — not even as the junior varsity, but the freshman squad — that’s when it sunk in. It was very clear then that the old rules didn’t apply anymore.”
Trump’s rise and sustained competitiveness in the race has been a trick that just about nobody — perhaps not even the candidate himself — thought that he could pull off initially, when those old rules still seemed to be in place. The same goes for Ben Carson, a man who campaigns sporadically and never met a tenuous Nazi analogy he didn’t like, and is being rewarded handsomely in polls for his rhetorical shamelessness.
And it says as much about modern presidential politics as it does either GOP outsider’s political savvy. Put simply, the assumptions that govern campaigns are no longer operable.
Trump and Carson are, in some respects, the symptom, not the cause. Everyone knew this election cycle could be a tough one for GOP insiders, but few realized initially just how tough. When Carly Fiorina is added to the mix — another Republican White House contender who has never held public office — the anti-politicians in the GOP field continue to poll at more than 50 percent among likely GOP primary voters.