Like the Iraq war, this probably cannot end well
Every recent poll of Republicans has put Donald Trump in first place. When I look at the Trump phenomenon, I can't help but recall something Gen. David Petraeus said to my Washington Post colleague Rick Atkinson as they surveyed the battlefield during the early days of the Iraq invasion: "Tell me how this ends."
How will the non-Trump candidates seek to present themselves in the most positive light? Will Walker refute Trump's allegation that Wisconsin is "doing terribly" or will he just brag about his victories over organized labor? Will Bush break into Spanish? Will Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, drowned out of late, try to crank up the volume? Will retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson again compare the Affordable Care Act to slavery?
Can Mike Huckabee come up with an even more offensive Holocaust analogy for the Iran nuclear deal? Can Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky remind voters that, you know, he's still in the race? Will Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas help Mr. Trump with his jacket and ask if he'd like a glass of water? Will Kasich make himself the flavor of the month? Will New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie punch somebody?
For the party's sake, Trump should take his combover and his bombast and go quietly
The safe approach would be for everyone to remain focused on Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama as targets. That would be boring, but right now boring probably looks pretty good to the Republican establishment.
Don't count on Trump to play along. He has been trashing other leading Republican candidates in ways that must make Democrats smile, and he has encouraged speculation that he could run in the general election as a third-party candidate if he is not "treated fairly" in the GOP primaries.
No question, The Donald is a problem for the Republicans. He genuinely appeals to a radical, even insurgent segment of the Republican base not dissimilar to the ranks of the tea party movement. He has pandered to their xenophobia and general penchant for grievance while posing as a bold truth-teller amid a feeble field of establishment sell-outs.
To believe that Trump can be president is delusional. A GOP nomination of the overbearing tycoon — itself a long shot — or a third-party bid would make the Oval Office a lock for Clinton. The trick for Republicans is to make him see reason, and get him to go quietly into that good night. But don't bet he's going to like it.
If you can't join him, beat him ...with a golf club, sword, or whatever
Trump is an attention-seeking missile bolstered by a sleek jet, a model wife, putative billions and no shame. For the candidates who hold office — with the exception of a few natural loudmouths like Cruz and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie --- who admonished a voter not to lie about his record last weekend — it is hard to match the Donald, a private citizen with no worries about having to retain the credibility to govern.
The other candidates are being drawn to Trump's act. After his speech in which he said many Mexican immigrants were rapists, most of the candidates stood down. By the time he accused Sen. John McCain of not being a war hero, candidates stood up, either because they were genuinely outraged or because they had noticed that Trump was way ahead.
When South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham insulted Trump, Trump swung back by revealing that Graham had called him, "begging" for a good reference for "Fox & Friends," and gave out his private phone number.
What a gift. Graham quickly produced a video in which he swung a golf club and a sword as part of a successful effort to smash his phone. At the bottom of the polls, Graham got to dominate the airwaves for a full day.
Given Trump's bellicosity, it's safer to deflect attention from him without a direct attack. Look at former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who invoked a Holocaust analogy — a surefire way to make headlines — in denouncing the Iran deal. Of Obama, Huckabee said, "He will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven."
Bingo. Within hours, Huckabee was everywhere.
America loves vacuous zingers, and Trump just fills the demand
We expect zingers. We require zing.
Trump is the king of zing.
His rivals are struggling to keep pace. We recently watched a video in which Rand Paul took a chain saw to a pile of papers meant to represent the federal tax code. We watched another video in which Lindsey Graham put his cellphone in a blender, dropped a concrete block on it and tried to light it on fire.
We cackled at Scott Walker's incompetence in the presence of cheesesteak. And we listened to Rick Perry challenge Trump to a duel of deltoids: Which man could do more pull-ups?
This is the magnitude of dignity being brought to the 2016 presidential contest. And it's the context in which Trump isn't surprising but rather inevitable.
We've summoned him like one of those demons in a horror movie who appears if his name is spoken too many times in a row. Too many times, we've ignored or outright encouraged the perversion of politics by vacuous stagecraft.
So the demon appeared. And he's giving us the torment that we deserve.