On Tuesday, in an unwitting and probably grudging admission that Donald Trump’s power is not going to erode any time soon, Politico published an article acknowledging that efforts by Katon Dawson, the former chairman of the South Carolina GOP, to form a super PAC for the express purpose of derailing Trump have found no donors willing to commit.
Dawson acknowledged, “I specifically did not find the right donor to get me to go to that effort.”
The GOP establishment, befuddled at Trump’s resilience, expressed confidence that Ben Caron’s discomfort in answering foreign policy questions, seemingly in evidence in the last GOP debate, will eventually doom his campaign, but they chafe at the fact that Trump can elicit cheers from GOP audiences with his “bomb-the-sh**-out-of-ISIS” rhetoric, as Politico terms it.
Still, GOP insiders cling to the hope that Carson and Trump will be marginalized; Dawson opined, “The losers are going to be Donald Trump and Ben Carson on national security. As the Republican base sobers up, they are the two, if this story lasts a long time, it’s going to hurt.”
Fred Malek, a longtime advisor to GOP presidents, echoed, “The severity of the attacks in Paris crystallize in people’s minds the importance of having somebody in the commander-in-chief spot who has made the kinds of decisions, gone through the kind of decision-making process, that an experienced leader has.”
Politico delightedly quoted The New York Times, which prompted two of Carson’s senior advisors to admit that Carson struggles to understand the nuances of foreign policy.
Fergus Cullen, the former chairman of the New Hampshire GOP, asserted, “Carson I’m not so worried about. I respect him for his accomplishments in life, but he is completely unprepared to be president of the United States, and that will take care of itself at the polls.” Doug Gross, an Iowa operative, added that Carson’s increased exposure will show he’s “not ready to be president. Just from a policy standpoint, he’s not prepared to deal with issues.”
GOP insiders were less sanguine about the chances to whittle Trump down to size, but still whistled in the dark; Stuart Stevens, Mitt Romney’s chief strategist, blustered, “I don’t think he wins a single primary… I think he gets out.” Although Cullen admitted Trump could win some early primaries, he stated, “I’m not totally discounting that this is a real problem. But I also think that in the fullness of time this will eventually work itself out.”
Charlie Black, who has advised many GOP presidents and their campaigns, said calmly, “I’m not too worried about it. Trump’s been losing a little steam since Labor Day, when he was up around 30, now he’s in the low 20s. Carson is as high as he’ll ever be, just because he’s beginning to demonstrate he doesn’t have real good knowledge of the issues. Either of them might win a primary or something, but that’s it.”
Yet Steve Schmidt, who managed John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, admitted in late October, “Trump has sustained a lead for longer than there are days left,” before voting begins in Iowa. “For a long time you were talking to people in Washington, and there was a belief that there was an expiration date to this, as if there’s some secret group of people who have the ability to control the process.”
Douglas Holtz-Eakin, the former director of the Congressional Budget Office and former chief economist of the Council of Economic Advisers, summed up the attitude of GOP establishment pundits:
The (Paris) attacks proved that a month is an infinite amount of political time, and that the shape of a campaign can flip dramatically in an instant. And for that reason I believe it’s a fair reading of the evidence to say that people don’t get serious until, if, and when they vote. And so I want to see what the polls in New Hampshire look like a week, three days, the day before the actual primaries are held…If Donald is at 42 percent in New Hampshire a day before the primary, you may see the establishment freak out. But I don’t think today.