The Grand Old Party’s Grand Clong

After the second Republican presidential debate last month, there was considerable angst as most polls showed three candidates with exactly zero experience in public office, Donald Trump, Carly Fiorina and Dr. Ben Carson, together holding half or more of the total vote. In a survey conducted from September 17-19, for example (immediately after the debate), CNN/ORC had Trump at 24%, Fiorina at 15% and Carson at 14%.

Now there’s a new CNN/ORC survey out, and there is one dramatic change: the “outsider” candidate the Republican Establishment actually finds acceptable, Carly Fiorina, has dropped from 15% all the way to 4%. Meanwhile Donald Trump, despite a gazillion predictions he was losing ground, is up a few points to 27%, and Ben Carson is all the way up to a strong second place at 22%. Nobody else in the field is showing any signs of making a move; last month’s supposed rocket, Marco Rubio, actually dropped from 11% to 8%.

Given the hard-earned CW that attacking Donald Trump has almost invariably backfired and probably won’t do much good, and the general feeling that attacking the strangely beloved Carson (only “strangely” because you’d think voters would be coming to the realization that the man holds a variety of opinions that are, to use a technical term, crazy) could backfire, too, what is the GOP to do?

The well-sourced Byron York says today that the Club for Growth is planning a massive ad campaign against Trump in Iowa and perhaps New Hampshire between now and the end of the year. Here’s a comment from York you probably would not have heard anyone make a few months ago:

The anti-Trump campaign will face several challenges. The biggest is the voters who support Trump. Conservative groups like the Club believe they can convince those voters that Trump is not a true conservative. Perhaps they can. But what if a large number of his voters are not wed to conservative orthodoxy as defined by Washington-based organizations?

It’s unclear whether anyone’s thinking about how to deflate Ben Carson’s support. But at some point the also-rans in recent polls are going to have to stop waiting around for Trump and Carson to fall apart and instead position themselves more favorably against the other strap-hangers.

You have to figure the temptation to do just that is growing in Team Bush, where the candidate simply is not benefiting from his frequent exchanges with Trump. Meanwhile, a University of North Florida poll released yesterday showed Jeb dropping to fourth place in his home state, with a booming 9% of the vote. The Bush donor network had to experience The Grand Clong (defined in Jeff Greenfield and Jerry Bruno’s classic political book The Advance Man as the feeling of a million pounds of s**t rushing to your heart) at that news, doncha think? So at some point you have to figure Mike Murphy of Jeb’s Right to Rise Super-PAC, who’s sitting on over a hundred million bucks at last count, starts spending some of that jack to pulverize Marco Rubio instead of sitting on it as his candidate goes right down the tubes.

Truth is the entire GOP could be experiencing the Grand Clong pretty soon if the nomination contest continues to be dominated by the Duopoly of Doom, Trump and Carson.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.