Trump: The Empire Strikes Back (Or Does It?)

Sorry, no sale. The Republican Party establishment really is not this weak. And Donald Trump, while far stronger than all but a few media experts thought until, well, a few weeks ago, is not this strong.

Trump rolled to three more easy victories this week in Michigan, Mississippi, and Hawaii, with the establishment-reviled falangist Texas Senator Ted Cruz taking Idaho. Trump did so in the face of what is supposedly the big GOP establishment counter-attack against the billionaire bully boy's front-running presidential campaign. Reality check: The big push against Trump isn't making a damn bit of difference in the Republican race. (Even his opponents backed away from taking him on in tonight's Florida debate.)

Of course, it isn't really a big push. It just has the surface atmospherics of one. I'm sure the "reality" TV superstar can smell a reality TV scenario. We're voting him off the island ... Cut to commercial.

Is it because Trump has settled down or changed his neo-fascist stripes? Nope. Trump, if anything, is pushing right on forward with his incendiary, supposedly "populist," aggressive know-nothingism. And, if anything, he has doubled down on his fascist atmospherics. See the video below in which Trump, campaigning for the upcoming North Carolina primary, has his followers raise their right hands and pledge allegiance to his presidential candidacy, then ostentatiously kicks out a lone protester, bellowing: "We don't have to take this anymore!"

Donald Trump leads supporters in next week's North Carolina primary in a pledge of allegiance to his candidacy, then turns on a lone protester (who can't be heard), ordering him expelled while he eggs the crowd on to boo and jeer the man.

Obedient followership, theatrical scapegoating, classic sociological hallmarks in the fascist communal experience. What next, a theme song of anger, resentment, and triumph? Hold on, there already is one. The same one used by Arnold Schwarzenegger when he swept to the California governorship in 2003. Stay tuned for much more compare-and-contrast between greenhouse denier Trump and Arnold, a world leader on renewable energy and climate change policy who backs Ohio Governor John Kasich.

But so ineffectual is the Republican establishment counter-attack on the supposedly reviled Trumpism that Kasich, a quite decent governor who is hardly unpopular in his big Midwestern state, may nonetheless lose it to Trump on March 15th. And establishment fave rave Senator Marco Rubio will almost certainly lose his home state Florida, where he trails Trump by a whopping 20-plus points in the latest polling.

What's been most interesting, aside from what has not happened, during the supposed big establishment attack on Trump is how its target has behaved.

Trump, of course, is trying to project a superhero mystique. But even given the acting chops playing, er, a version of himself that he has developed in reality TV, he has been utterly unrepentant and seemingly unconcerned throughout the "onslaught."

Perhaps because a master con man can smell a con.

After all, what has the big GOP establishment counter-attack on Trump actually consisted of? A rambling speech by Mitt Romney who, by himself at least, is if anything a perfect foil for Trump. A letter denouncing Trump's geopolitics signed by a bunch of neoconservatives, most of whom even I have never heard of. A scattering of negative statements from a mostly random assortment of Republican names. A few super PACs spending big on some ads, none of which look good enough to even be submitted for a Clio.

Belatedly, a majority of the ads in the Republican primaries are now anti-Trump ads. But it's very late in the day and the ads are all over the map substantively, with no unifying message. Tellingly, until three weeks ago, only four percent of GOP super PAC spending was devoted to taking down the notorious Obama birther.

That's it. That's it?!

What would a real Republican establishment takedown of Twitter-master Trump look like? Try every Republican presidential nominee since the late Ronald Reagan appearing together to explain why Trump constitutes a clear and present danger not only to the honor of the Republican Party but also to the future of the United States. And a full-tilt, intelligently coordinated, massively funded multi-media attack devised by the best of Madison Avenue and the exceptionally well-paid GOP consultant class.

Why aren't we seeing that, instead of the active yet half-baked display that allows many to say they tried and that Trump obviously feels free to ignore? (When he's not having fun mocking Mitt Romney, that is.)

Is it because a party which has always anointed a credentialed safe choice as its presidential nominee is suddenly too disorganized to pull its act together?

Is it because Trump has been allowed to generate such a head of steam that taking him down now would either be too difficult or just too dismissive of his backers, who after all now constitute most of the popular core of the party?

Or is it because Trump -- who offers the biggest tax cuts for the super-rich and big corporations of any candidate and whose other policy positions are actually very similar to those of principal challenger Cruz and fast fading establishment fave Rubio -- also offers an opportunity to a party which has real trouble igniting a sense of excitement?

Some polls suggest that it can't be the latter, that Trump is simply too offensive to be elected. But that implies a very static view of the election.

If he succeeds next week, Trump will undoubtedly move to broaden his appeal, morphing his rough-and-ready style into one more consonant with his popular reality TV star persona as an authoritative and tough but hardly unsympathetic truth teller.

And Trump's likeliest opponent -- still Hillary Clinton, despite her loss to Bernie Sanders in Michigan, so unexpected due to bad polling that even Sanders was not prepared for it, as his hastily advanced victory speech showed -- has problems that Trump may be able to exploit to ruinous effect. (So does Sanders, for that matter.) The question of how Trump can run a general election race against Hillary naturally deserves a great deal of space all its own.

In this regard, something else that is not happening in the Republican Party seems most telling. Few of Trump's sharp GOP critics say they won't support Trump if he is the Republican presidential nominee. Belying their very warnings.

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