The media are entranced by Donald Trump and vested in his success. (The debate drew the biggest ratings for any cable news program. His interview on “Meet the Press” gave NBC its best rating in 1½ years.) Some even buy into summer polling (talk to President Rudy Giuliani), but they tend not to dwell on facts that suggest Trump’s candidacy is, well, ridiculous. For example, although Trump has 100 percent name ID, 75 percent of Republicans are not supporting him and large majorities don’t find him fit to be president.
The more interesting question is not whether Trump goes away, but how and when.
One theory has it that his act wears thin. After you have seen the angry-man shtick once, you need something more entertaining. Maybe the new fall TV shows. Maybe football season. If the media cover the third and fourth mass Trump rally, they are not necessarily going to cover the 51st and 52nd. So perhaps he just drifts downward as voters find other distractions and as his ratings dwindle.
Another theory is that around December or January, when faced with actually losing a primary — the equivalent to pulling back the curtain on the Wizard of Oz — Trump and his team figure out they need to get out of the GOP race. He is outraged about . . . well, about something! He declares war on the GOP and stalks out in a huff. They are “losers,” he would tell us. You, Reince Priebus are fired! Can’t you just see it? Maybe he runs as a third-party candidate, or maybe he gets his own TV contract to do the angry-man routine every night — and get paid for it.
Yet another scenario is that he competes in Iowa and — gasp! — loses. The system is rigged! It’s a conspiracy! You get it. He exits the stage, tinfoil hat perched on his hair haystack and heads to cash in on his newly burnished image as hero of the disaffected. Forget Rush Limbaugh. The Donald show will be the hottest radio show (or cable TV show) ever.
Whenever he goes (and no, I don’t think he wins any contests), the question is who gets his voters, right? Well, it’s not clear they are likely GOP primary voters. (Anyone can tell a pollster that he or she is a GOP primary voter all-in for Trump.) If they see a crowded field, it is unlikely they all go to one person, try as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) might to imitate Trump and inherit his voters. Trump voters without Trump aren’t necessarily going to line up behind a right-wing conservative. Remember that Trump’s eclectic views aren’t the sort that win adherents from ideologically “severe” conservatives. They can scatter in many directions; establishment candidates such as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) might even get some of them.
So once again we come down to a fundamental misread of the GOP electorate by inexperienced campaigns and breathless pundits. Trump is in his own bracket, the primal scream (as George Will put it) bracket or the entertainment (as Huffington Post categorizes him) bracket. It does not pay to compete with him because: 1.) no one out-Trumps Trump; 2.) a vast majority of GOP voters don’t like what he is offering; and 3.) donors are not going to give gobs of money to someone spouting nonsense. The play here is to enjoy the Trump show, save resources, build the organization and message and go all-in to win early states. In other words, ignore him or mock him. The media literally cannot afford to do so, but smart candidates should.