Here we are in mid-February 2016, and there are still vast swaths of the Republican Party that can’t come to accept the fact that Donald Trump – winner of the New Hampshire primary, runner-up of the Iowa caucus – stands a very strong chance of being the GOP’s nominee for the presidency. This incurable skepticism found voice this week in the Politico Insider Caucus, which conducts a weekly assessment of “insider” sentiment and republishes it on the assumption that the opinions of “insiders” have inherent news value.
According to the insider consensus, Trump maybe looks strong now, but he is actually weak because… well, here, read for yourself:
Their rationale is partly about math – Trump has a solid plurality of the vote in many states, but polls suggest he is too polarizing to win over a majority of Republicans – and partly grounded in the belief that the brash, sometimes-profane real-estate mogul will wilt once the other candidates turn their fire on him.
“Nobody has gone negative on The Donald,” added a Republican in New Hampshire, where Trump won Tuesday with more than 35 percent of the vote. “Nobody has talked about his liberal views, his bankruptcies, or his personal life. As the front runner, it's all fair game.”
A South Carolina Republican put it this way: “He will flame out as people become more serious.”
It’s nothing short of amazing that Republicans continue to believe this. There has been plenty of negativity thrown at Trump, and much of it has focused on his past liberalism, multiple bankruptcies, and personal life. At the first Republican debate, Trump was asked questions about his bankruptcies, his previous support of pro-choice policies, and the fact that he’s a sexist gremlin who calls women he doesn’t like “pigs.” He answered or deflected all those questions, and he’s been rising in the polls ever since. The idea that Trump will “wilt” when challenged persists despite the fact that he bounced back from an unexpected loss to Ted Cruz in Iowa and romped to victory in New Hampshire. New polling out of South Carolina suggests that he’s in a similarly commanding position ahead of next Saturday’s primary. The one national poll conducted post-New Hampshire shows him bouncing into the mid-40s. Despite all this, Republican elites still think that the long-awaited Trump collapse is just around the corner.
And they’ve been wrong about this for months. Let’s take a quick stroll through the Politico archives and relive the rich, vibrant history of Republican insiders refusing to recognize that Trump has hijacked their beloved party.
July 24: Donald Trump has “peaked” because he insulted John McCain and gave out Lindsey Graham’s cellphone number. “Trumpism does not represent some deeper sentiment within the party,” said one safely anonymous insider.
Aug. 7: Trump was the clear loser of the first Republican debate because he behaved like an “egomaniacal thug” onstage. “What was his worst response: third party, chauvinism, single-payer, or bankruptcies?” griped a sage insider. “His limited number of supporters can’t look the other way on this stuff forever.”
Aug. 14: “Six in 10 Republican insiders in the early states say Donald Trump can’t win Iowa or New Hampshire,” Politico calculated. “Telling a pollster you support Trump is whiskey courage. Most of them will sober up enough to realize they aren’t going to walk into a ballot booth and vote for a misogynist jerk,” said one Republican from … New Hampshire.
Nov. 17: The renewed focus on national security after the Paris terrorist attacks encouraged “Republican elders” who “think their party’s flirtation with inexperience is nearing its end.” Per Politico: “In interviews with current and former GOP chairs, veteran operatives, lobbyists and strategists, the long-held conviction that neither Trump nor Carson will win the Republican nomination has only strengthened since the attacks in Paris last week.”
Now we’ve arrived in February, with the next primary a week away, and they’re still saying these same things – people will eventually get serious, they’ll come to their senses, someone just needs to hit Trump and he’ll fall apart. They’ll probably keep right on saying it even if Trump crushes the field in South Carolina.
These Republicans won’t admit that they were wrong because that would mean they aren’t as in touch with their own party as they believe themselves to be – what good is an “insider’s” opinion if you can’t actually see what’s going on inside? They’d probably also have to ask some hard questions about their own role in fostering the sort of ugly populist nationalism that powers the Trump surge. So they’ll just keep right on anonymously predicting Trump’s imminent collapse in the pages of Politico and hope that this time, by dumb luck, they’ll be right.