Fire Contained? RNC Hopes Trump is Finished

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Previous reports about the demise of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign have proven to be premature. After offending many with his comments on Mexican immigrants, pundits thought his fledgling candidacy would quickly flame out. That didn’t happen. When he attacked John McCain over his status as a war hero, everyone thought the end was nigh. Once again, they were wrong. Now Republicans are praying that Trump’s mini-feud with Fox News’s Megyn Kelly will finally put an end to his campaign.

“The fire still burns, but the fire is now contained,” said Alex Castellanos, a GOP strategist. “He can’t grow. He has condemned himself to be a protest candidate, not a serious candidate for the Republican nomination. That means we now move forward to a more normal debate.”

But it remains to be seen whether Castellanos is right or if the next round of polls will solidify Trump’s unstoppable course to the nomination. Certainly, the controversial candidate’s speculation that Kelly had “blood coming from wherever” was, um, unusual for someone we’re supposed to take seriously as a presidential contender. Offensive? Certainly, despite Trump’s insistence that he was referencing a “nosebleed.” No one’s buying that. So it really comes down to whether or not Trump’s supporters care how offensive he gets.

This time around, Trump’s comments did cost him a spot at the RedState Gathering in Atlanta, a convention for conservatives hosted by Erick Erickson. But losing a spot at a convention is a long way from losing the top spot in the polls. From the talk coming out of the first GOP debate, it didn’t appear that his major contenders swayed viewers. If Trump sinks, it will be interesting to see where his supporters go.

The Third Party Threat

Republicans have to be careful when it comes to marginalizing their controversial frontrunner. If attacks from the other candidates turn into blatant attacks from the party leadership, Trump may decide to take his ball and go home. Apart from his exchange with Kelly at the debate, Trump’s refusal to pledge support to the eventual nominee was the night’s biggest moment. Not only does he refuse to rule out a third-party run, he appears to be holding it over the RNC like a threat.

Should Trump forge an independent campaign, conventional wisdom has been that it would pave a clear path to victory for Hillary Clinton. For that reason, Republicans must exercise caution while still maintaining the integrity of the party. Trump is everything the party has been trying to move away from in recent years, frustrating efforts to appeal to minorities, including women.

On the other hand, this is exactly why his campaign caught fire so quickly. A certain percentage of conservative voters are fed up with mealy-mouthed, moderate candidates. They would rather turn to people who make up for experience with real talk. And it may be that those voters realize that the flipside of political incaution is the occasional offensive statement.

It’s not, when you think about it, the worst downside in the world.