Donald Trump had a singular debate performance last night in many respects, not least of which was his aggressive and truthful attacks on George W. Bush over Iraq and 9/11. To recap, Trump declared that the Bush Administration said that not only were there no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but that the Administration knew in advance there were no weapons and invaded anyway. In other words, that Bush and Cheney lied the country into war. Then Trump lambasted the notion that the Bush Administration had kept the country safe from terrorism, noting that 9/11 happened on Bush’s watch, and that Bush had failed to listen to his own CIA about the threat from Al Qaeda.
It’s hard to overstate how consequential it would be for the GOP establishment if Trump were to make this case and survive. On these issues Trump’s critique is 100% accurate, but it also isn’t far from that made by Bill Maher, Michael Moore and progressive activists. But then again, it’s not at all clear that rank and file GOP voters have much emotionally vested interest in defending Bush/Cheney regime on these issues. Establishment Republicans are extremely upset, to be sure, and Trump’s opponents are trying hard to make hay of his statements. The hand-picked debate audience of GOP donors certainly seemed to believe that Trump had finally gone too far.
But the more we’ve seen of the GOP primary, the more apparent it becomes that at least half of Republican voters have lost all faith with establishment Republican orthodoxy, choosing instead the most aggressively authoritarian, anti-elitist, racist and xenophobic voice in the field.
And all the available evidence so far suggests that Trump will survive even this outrage of truth-telling with nary a scratch. The CBS tracking poll shows Trump holding onto a commanding lead in South Carolina.
The online post-debate poll on Drudge gave Trump an overwhelming win–which, while imperfect, is far more reliable an indicator than the musings of any of the conservative pundits on the cable news shows or respectable news sites.
Moreover, a quick perusal of forums and comments sections frequented by core conservatives shows that Trump hasn’t lost any ground. One of the reasons I have been convinced for months that Trump had staying power is that I don’t take my cues on Republican politics from the so-called professionals interviewed by Politico or from the editors of the National Review. I go straight to the source: the Fox News comments sections and sites like Free Republic. Just 20 minutes of reading real Republican voters will tell you more about the state of the GOP race than hours on respectable conservative media platforms.
To see how real Republican voters feel, just read this front-page thread at Free Republic. Or this one. There is a cadre of anti-Trump activists there, but they are significantly outnumbered even today–and this is true of nearly every rambunctious conservative forum.
If Trump continues to dominate the GOP primary, it’s even more dire news for the GOP than previously believed. It’s not just that they stand to lose heavily in the general election. It’s also that they’ve completely lost touch with their own voters.