The Corner

Say Goodbye to Donald Trump’s ‘Ceiling’

In response to Hmmmm: Saddam & Osama

Jim, if the new Florida poll is accurate, then Trump doesn’t just win a three-man race, he’ll beat anyone one-on-one. If he’s at 44 percent in Florida now, then even if everyone else drops out, he only has to grab a hair over six percent of the remaining voters to win. His alleged “ceiling” of support just keeps rising — in state after state

Looking back, the decision of the best and brightest political consultants and strategists to spend only $9 million out of the first $215 million in Super PAC expenditures attacking Trump may go down as one of the most cosmically stupid and short-sighted moves in modern political history. And the same goes for candidates who long went out of their way to avoid attacking Trump even as they gleefully tore into their other competitors. 

I confess that I’ve fallen victim on occasion to the “ceiling” theory of Trump support, but the decision to try to destroy every candidate but the belligerent front-runner was short-sighted from the start. It not only drove up his competitors’ negatives, it also made them look weak and afraid. As I wrote back in December, if you want to beat the front-runner, have the courage to take him on directly. Instead, the leading contenders largely chose a passive strategy against Trump, one predicated on the notion that victory was assured if only they could clear the rest of the field:

A passive strategy isn’t leadership. Cruz and Rubio are both gifted communicators in their own ways, they’ve both staked out important ground in Washington waging rear-guard actions against the Obama administration’s lawlessness and excesses (why isn’t Rubio more effectively trumpeting his successful opposition to Obamacare’s insurance-company bailouts?), and they both have thoughtful (though differing) responses to the challenges from ISIS, Iran, and Russia. But they’re not yet leading.

Now is the time. A presidential campaign is an early test of leadership, a proving ground for dealing with the challenges of the world’s most difficult job. I don’t want the last man standing. I want the guy who took down the king. If Trump can absorb the best shots from the Republican party’s best young talent, then he deserves the nomination. If one of the two talented freshman senators can dethrone The Donald, then at least we have some assurance that they can first stand strong against the coming Clinton onslaught and then have the strength of will to lead a nation desperate not just for wisdom but for the right kind of tough-minded leadership.

Trump has combined megawatt celebrity, a fearless (though crude and malicious) communication style, and attention-grabbing talking points (“Make America great.” “I will build a wall, and Mexico will pay for it.”) to forge his lead, but there’s no doubt that he’s been fortunate in his enemies. It’s one thing to initially believe that a celebrity candidate will collapse under the weight of his own inexperience and mistakes. It’s another thing entirely to keep believing in the collapse after more than six months of polling leads and Trump’s perseverance through countless gaffes and insults that would doom the ordinary candidate. Trump is doing a good job winning — to be sure — but his opponents have done an excellent job losing.

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