Imagine the race on the Republican side is frozen in the polls from now until January with Donald Trump on top and Ben Carson a close second. Down the list is the establishment favorites including Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, unable to gain any traction or land serious punches against the frontrunners. That is the very scenario which several conservative and Republican-aligned political groups are planning for should the need arise. The crux of such a plan would include wall-to-wall negative advertising against Trump in the early primary states.
Report from the Washington Examiner:
“The Republican establishment, for the first time, is saying, off the record, this guy can win,” noted Joe Scarborough on MSNBC Monday morning. “I’ve heard that from everybody. I don’t hear anybody saying he can’t win the nomination anymore.”
That doesn’t mean Republicans have made their peace with a Trump victory. On the contrary — some are preparing to do whatever it takes to bring him down. Which could lead to an extraordinary scenario in which GOP stalwarts go to war to destroy their own party’s likely nominee.
Over the weekend I talked to a leading conservative who opposes Trump. I asked what would happen if January comes and Trump is still dominating the race. Would he and other conservatives make their peace with Trump’s candidacy, or would there be massive resistance?
“Massive resistance,” was the answer. “He’s not a conservative.”
Insiders have watched as Trump defied what many believed were immutable laws of the political universe. First they thought Trump wouldn’t run. Then they thought voters wouldn’t take a reality-TV star seriously. Then they thought gaffes would kill Trump as they had other candidates. None of that turned out as expected.
But there is one belief Trump has not yet tested, and that is the political insiders’ unshakeable faith that negative ads work.
“I don’t think Trump can withstand 10,000 points of smart negative in Iowa and New Hampshire,” says one veteran Republican strategist who is not affiliated with any campaign. “It would force him to spend money. That’s when this starts to get real for him.” (“Points” refers to gross ratings points, a way of measuring TV ad buys; 10,000 points would be a really big buy, meaning the average viewer would see an anti-Trump ad many, many times.)
There is no central anti-Trump conspiracy. But one group that would like to play a leading role in taking him down is the Club for Growth. In September, the Club ran two ads against Trump in Iowa — 2,000 points — with one arguing that Trump is not a true conservative and the other hitting Trump for his support of the Supreme Court’s Kelo decision on eminent domain.
So it appears that conventional wisdom is settling in that, barring some major unforeseen disruption, Trump will not be easily unseated from atop the GOP primary polls. Furthermore, the other conventional wisdom sinking in is that none of the other “insider” candidates will be able to do much in the way of raising their profile before primary votes are cast next February.
In that scenario, what happens to the establishment? Do they fall in line and support Trump, or do they fight like hell to tear him down and disqualify him from the nomination in the minds of voters? The next couple debates will be crucial for the establishment favorites sitting in third, fourth, or fifth place. If Jeb Bush cannot muster some serious gains, some analysts think he will eventually step aside and let Rubio take a crack at the top spot.
One thing is for certain, the race has been interesting thus far, but I don’t think we’ve really seen anything yet until it comes down to crunch time and Trump and/or Carson is still leading the pack.