On Tuesday, the umbrage level was high. The outrage was bipartisan and vast. People fired off all manner of constitutional references and riffs. And it seemed that much of the loudest, most eloquent and, as my colleague Amber Philips put it, elegant condemnations came from officialdom on the right. It was, to say the least, an interesting turn of events in a race in which Trump has repeatedly and expertly toyed with the tools and techniques of fascism, overt racism and xenophobia.
This time, officialdom and the political press alike seem more certain than ever (which is not necessarily saying much) that Trump has crossed the line.
By Thursday, a new NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll offered what might be the biggest hint as to the mysterious timing of all these simultaneously drawn lines in the sand. As Trump never misses an opportunity to point out — with his supporters not far behind — he retains the lead in most national polls of the GOP primary.
But the NBC-Wall Street Journal poll released late Thursday dug inside public opinion on Trump's suggestion that the country halt any and all Muslim immigration. A full 42 percent of Republicans backed Trump's proposal, while 36 percent opposed it. Among Republican primary voters — those most likely to show up and decide all those contests between now and the Republican convention — things are even closer. Researchers found that 38 percent supported Trump's idea, and 39 percent opposed it.
Translation: There's either a very narrow remaining chance of preventing this idea from cementing Trump's base and further dividing the GOP, or this is a very recently lost cause.
Heck, as The Washington Post reported Thursday, party officials are now talking about what they'll need to do to prepare for the real possibility of a convention floor fight for the nomination. That is a a possible byproduct of Trump's limited but devoted appeal and a very crowded race. Trump is not just a phenomenon of which some American voters don't know what to make; he is a force that must be contended with inside the Republican Party.
All those Trump recriminations that spilled out in rapid succession earlier this week, were almost certainly aimed at Republican voters and/or driven by a desire to communicate that the non-Donald Trumps among them can and will band together. The fact that the critiques were aimed at Republicans is also almost a given, because over in the corners of America that have long been the targets of Trump's public calls for group suspicion, his support for tough and sometimes preemptive punishments, surveillance, isolation, exclusion and severe limits on freedom of assembly Trump's latest suggestion seemed to fit. In other words: His latest comments weren't at all surprising.
Why? For these Americans, nothing about what Trump said was inconsistent with the overarching themes of his campaign. Nothing he has said thus far stopped other Republicans from pledging to support his candidacy if Trump is the Republican nominee. And, perhaps most notably, there really is no substantive difference between what Trump has advocated this week — a ban on all Muslim immigration — and the other Republican presidential candidates who sanctioned limiting Syrian refugee migration to verifiable Christians only.
Not even the presidential candidates that Trump trounces regularly in the polls said much of anything publicly about Trump's decision to retweet a set of utterly false statistics about race and murder. And when it came to Trump's seeming support for an assault that his fans meted out in Alabama, that too merited silence.
And that folks, all happened within the past few weeks.
Before that, Trump had called illegal Mexican immigrants criminals and rapists, advocated an end to birthright citizenship and had a Latino journalist hauled out of one of his news conferences. Sure, there are some — this Fix heard from a few personally this week — black and Latino voters who are fans of Trump. But the very polls that Trump is so fond of touting show those groups are pretty darn small. No, make that minuscule. That's largely due to the aforementioned policy positions, proposals, off-hand comments and retweets. Need we go on?
We could talk about the past 50 years and some of the most reliable tools the Republican Party has found to mobilize its base. There isn't a political scientist alive who would exclude race and other types of demographic anxiety from that list. And those are the nice words for some of the party's most reliable historical tools.
It's, of course, possible that individual Republicans have, in the past week, become truly appalled or sufficiently emboldened to publicly criticize and reject the ways of the Trump campaign, out of nothing more than sincere and total disagreement. But based on events to date, that's really not likely.
Now, here's the really bad news for Republican Party insiders. This week may turn out to be the moment that people later describe as the point at which things were already too far gone. That's because Trump supporters have, thus far, demonstrated one heck of a habit. And that is this: When Trump is mired in controversy or the subject of widespread critique, their esteem for the New York real estate mogul only grows.