Don’t discount Trump; the “establishment” no longer does

Eliana Johnson reports that the Republican establishment is beginning to believe Donald Trump might well win the Republican presidential nomination. Eliana is right. So is the Republican establishment.

The best evidence of the establishment’s view of the matter is the fact that Alex Castellanos, the quintessential GOP insider, believes Trump might well win. Byron York reports:

Castellanos, who once said flatly that “Trump is not going to be the nominee,” writes “the odds of Trump’s success have increased and been validated in the past few weeks.”

The key indicator, Castellanos says, is the fact that Trump dipped in the polls and now appears to be rising again. “In my experience, that tells us something important,” Castellanos explains:

Republican voters went through a period of doubt about Trump, an understandable window of buyer’s remorse. They went shopping for someone else — but returned, finding no acceptable alternative who could match Trump’s bad-boy strength and his capacity to bring indispensable change. … Fearing they have only one last chance to rescue their country, they found no one else as big as their problem.

“In my experience, once voters doubt but return, doubting again is less likely,” Castellanos concludes. “A candidate’s vote hardens.”

How might this translate in the horse race? Right now, Ben Carson looks like the only barrier to Trump winning Iowa. No serious barrier to Trump has emerged in New Hampshire.

Trump likely would become the clear front-runner if he wins New Hampshire and Iowa. Even if he loses Iowa to Carson, he would be no worse than a co-frontrunner as long as he wins New Hampshire.

By that point, Rubio or Bush (most likely Bush) will probably have dropped out of the race. The one who remains will need to win Florida. He might, but he might not.

If Trump wins Florida, he’ll be in great shape. If he loses to Rubio or Bush, the race will be wide open, with Ted Cruz also in the picture and banking on winning the Southern sweepstakes.

In all of these scenarios, Trump has a path to the nomination.

He also still has a path to oblivion. Just because Trump hasn’t crashed and burned yet doesn’t mean he won’t. I’ve banked on negative ads highlighting his past liberalism. Who’s to say they won’t do the trick? Who’s to say that his act won’t wear thin?

But the window for something like this to occur is closing. As Catellanos concludes:

Time is running out. Benghazi hearings, a debt fight, Halloween, Putin kicking over our lemonade stand a couple of times, Thanksgiving, Christmas, then one quick month until we start voting Feb. 1st. This race is solidifying and there isn’t much time left for it to change.

As Yogi Berra might have said, ‘what comes later happens earlier than it used to.'”