Gaze in awe as the Summer of Trump continues.
The circus atmosphere of the first official Republican candidate debate last Thursday, which looked a lot like an attempted Fox News hit on The Donald, continued into the weekend as Erick Erickson abruptly “disinvited” Trump to his ten-candidate Red State Gathering for sexist comments (yeah, irony duly noted) about Fox News’ Megyn Kelly, who was in turn flown in to replace Trump as keynote speaker. New GOP star Carly Fiorina joined in the gala Trump-bashing, and by the end of the weekend it looked like he was getting the kind of sustained party-wide carpet-bombing treatment a lot of us expected when Trump snarked about John McCain’s war record last month.
And yet: a 24-hour online poll (in other words, one you should take with a shaker of salt) from NBC and Survey Monkey showed Trump still leading the GOP pack with 23% of the vote, with fellow wacko birds Ted Cruz and Ben Carson running second and third, while supposed co-frontrunners Jeb Bush and Scott Walker lost ground and fell into the second tier.
Meanwhile, tales of turmoil continued to emanate from Team Trump. Infamous old-school operative Roger Stone (you know, the former swinger with a tattoo of Richard Nixon) has parted ways with Trump, and a campaign under the control (which may be too strong a word) of a former Koch Empire operative is struggling to set up a traditional infrastructure for the voting events next year.
I’m not about to make any prediction about where this all goes next, other than to observe that Trump’s following is clearly durable enough to survive publicity disasters that would have long since sunk most presidential candidates. The one certain thing the Fox News/Red State assaults on the man accomplished is to give him the excuse he needs to separate himself entirely from the GOP and go indie at some point down the road. Since it appears the bulk of his support is coming from conservative white non-college educated voters–also known these days as the Republican base–even a trunctated indie run could be deadly to the GOP in a close two-party race.
Now everyone will be watching the (more legitimate) polls to see if Trump has really been damaged this time, and that may dictate what the GOP and conservative movement establishments do next. They may well choose to hold fire for a while in hopes that Trump-o-mania loses steam or his rickety campaign apparatus collapses on itself. But the odds are that this strange stage of a strange GOP presidential cycle will persist from summer into an Indian Summer that casts a big shadow over what was already a complicated mess of a nominating contest.
UPDATE: ABC’s Jonathan Karl reports that a “senior advisor” to Trump sez The Donald is thinking about taking that no-third-party pledge he rather conspicuously refused to take on the debate stage last Thursday. Who knows if this is accurate? If it is, it sure would change the dynamics between Trump and the rest of the GOP, whose main fear about the wily entertainer would then become confined to the nomination process. It would also defy most expectations. It’s hard to imagine Trump giving up the power to terrify his Republican critics with the one word “maybe.”