For the Republican candidates and party poohbahs who would bring down Donald Trump, this race is starting to look like one of those horror movies where no matter what the heroes do the bad guy is one step ahead of them, grinning at their “loser” ways, ready to go in for the kill.
Today’s early-round victim was Mitt Romney, who somehow thought if he reminded voters Trump is “a phony and a fraud” who has sometimes failed in business and likes to talk about his rivals in public the way we all talk about our rivals in private, they would flee the billionaire’s cause in droves.
Romney came out aggressive. And Trump came back doubling down, as he always does.
Romney’s never been very popular, even among people who like him. And the people who are attracted to Trump don’t like Mitt a lick: not his $250 million fortune, his smooth looks or his “I’m a guy who knows how to lay off people and offshore jobs” consultancy and investment past.
They think he’s what’s wrong with the whole system and the traditional GOP. They think much the same of Sen. John McCain, except that where Romney and his ilk like to send good jobs out of the country, McCain, because of his humanitarian take on immigration, is seen as wanting people to come here and take what jobs are left. McCain came out in support Romney today, and the words of both, to Trump supporters, were more of an endorsement than any positive sentiment could have been.
This is not the Republican Party of the 1950s or the 1980s. This is not even the tea party. These aren’t people screaming for small government. They’re screaming for government that helps them address their very serious needs, a fact the other Republican candidates just cannot seem to grasp.
When Trump spoke this afternoon in front of the standard adoring crowd he eviscerated Romney, saying the 2012 nominee ran a terrible campaign (true), should have been able to beat Obama (not true, never stood a chance) and wanted Trump’s endorsement so badly in the last race that according to Trump he “could have said 'Mitt, drop to your knees,' and he would've dropped to his knees" for the endorsement.
So tonight, having again been reminded of what happens when you poke the bear, the “good guys” of the Republican Party again get to face Trump in a debate on Fox News. And they again have to decide whether to deal with the bear by laying quietly in a fetal debating posture and hoping he leaves them alone, or punching at the bear and risk him tearing off their limbs as the crowd roars in pleasure.
Right now Trump is like a poker player who doubles the bet every time it’s raised against him, and keeps coming up with the best cards.
You cannot out-aggressive a player like that while he is on a tear. When you try you get crushed. The only way to win is to wait patiently wait until the tide turns.
The problem for Ted Cruz, John Kasich and Marco Rubio is that this stage of the game may well be over before that ever happens.
It might be over now.