Trump still rolling, empire yet to strike back

There’s another poll of the GOP presidential race out, a Washington Post-ABC News production. It tells basically the same story as its predecessors. Donald Trump continues to lead with a little better than 30 percent support; Ben Carson remains in second a little above 20 percent; Marco Rubio holds third place at about 10 percent.

Despite Trump’s consistently strong showing, Nate Silver and the folks at FiveThirtyEight remain unimpressed. They see the probability of Trump being nominated as somewhere between 4 and 8 percent.

I hope they are right, but that strikes me as too low.

Part of the skepticism at FiveThirtyEight has to do with the fact that we’re still months away from any voting or caucusing. Another factor is that the field hasn’t narrowed. A third is that “establishment” hasn’t gone after Trump yet.

What can the establishment do hurt Trump? It can fund ads attacking him for not being consistently conservative. It’s not implausible to believe that once voters begin really focusing on the race, these ads will be effective. That had been my assumption. I no longer assume it, but neither do I discount it.

But here’s a question: Isn’t there a good chance that, if effective, the establishment’s attacks will bring to the fore another candidate unpalatable to it? I’m thinking of Carson or Ted Cruz.

Let’s say you’re a conservative supporting Trump because you find him impressive and like that he’s an outsider. Let’s say you discover that Trump isn’t really conservative and this is a deal-breaker. Wouldn’t the most logical move be to support a reasonably impressive outsider who is strongly conservative?

That’s not Rubio or Bush, insiders both. If the establishment wants one of them, as I assume it does, it might have to take down Carson too, and maybe even Cruz. That’s a lot of taking down.

Here’s another question: How will the establishment respond if Trump is the nominee? Most in the establishment would, I assume, support Trump and try to influence him. But some might want him to lose Barry Goldwater style so they can reclaim “their party.”

Trump surely recognizes this problem. If, contrary to the expectations of the FiveThirtyEight crowd, Trump gets the nomination, it will be fascinating to see how he tries to head it off — e.g, through his selection of a running mate.

We shouldn’t get this far ahead of ourselves, but with the race stagnant right now this sort of speculation comes naturally. Fortunately there’s another debate coming soon and with it, perhaps, a shake-up somewhere in the pecking order.