Thus far, the assumption of pretty much everyone in politics and the media has been that Trump will burn out, and soon. The analogy is to 2012, when candidates ranging from Herman Cain to Newt Gingrich to Rick Santorum to Michele Bachmann found themselves atop the polls and on the covers of magazines — only to implode a few days or weeks later. But there are a few reasons Trump might be different:
- With the possible exception of Newt Gingrich, those candidates had little experience under the klieg lights of the national media. But before Trump was a politician, he was a reality television star. He has more experience, and more savvy, in front of the camera than any other Republican running for president. He is more than prepared for the spotlight.
- Trump is a billionaire who can self-fund his campaign. That matters, as one way parties can break insurgents is to systematically peel off their donors.
- Trump's supporters do not seem to care about the normal rules of American politics. They do not care whether Trump is consistent, they do not care whether he is electable, they do not care whether he has supported Democrats, they do not care that he has backed single-payer, they do not care that he disrespected John McCain's war record, they do not care that everyone else in the Republican Party hates him. The Republican Party has launched a series of attacks that should have damaged Trump, and they've gotten nowhere with them.
- Trump cannot be embarrassed, shamed, or otherwise brought to heel. He lives, as far as anyone can tell, to attract media attention and prove to the world that he is a winner.
The point here isn't that Trump will win the primary. He won't. But if he holds at 15 percent or 20 percent throughout the race, that will be a huge problem for the Republicans. Their primary will be a circus in which they try to control Trump, rather than a PR opportunity in which they show they're prepared to govern the nation. And then if Trump threatens to run a third-party candidacy, or even simply refuse to endorse the GOP nominee, it could be a disaster.
The Republican Party started in a bind with Trump: They somehow needed to stop him without getting on his bad side. The assumption there, though, was that they could stop him. But now it's not even clear they can stop him, and so it's possible that attacks on Trump will only make him and his supporters angrier.