|Trump Crowd in Phoenix from Philip Rucker|
What thresholds would have to be crossed? What indicators might we look for?
The DebatesThe Omnivore caught Trump's speech on YouTube: it was impressive. His "compelling narrative" was not about his upbringing, the maturing of his political thought, or overcoming hardship--well, kinda the last. The beginning of his speech was about each brand that had dumped him and how the brand was a loser ("Macy wants to stop selling my ties--but to be honest they're being made in China . . . so I didn't care too much").
The crowd loved it. On stage he is a natural--for all the lack of polish of his speech (which had no notes or teleprompter) he was charismatic, forceful, and played artfully to the audience.
Trump's brand here is that he won't back down (his exit music was Twisted Sister's We're Not Gonna Take It) and, indeed, he won't (The Omnivore is hoping for Tom Petty at some point). With no mechanism for controlling him, if he makes it to the debate stage, he could do some real damage.
The first debate--the grown-up table (the top 10 polling candidates)--will be 50 minutes of stage time with 10 people. That's 5 minutes to arrange your fortunes and strut your stuff.
The Omnivore expects Trump to speak for at least 15 minutes--if that little. For guys like Jeb Bush, that's okay. For guys like Ted Cruz, though, they're hoping to use their natural debate skills to break away from the pack. Having a larger-than-life showman on the stage takes needed oxygen away from that dynamic.
If Trump does file and Fox/CNN don't find some way to exclude him, the RNC may wish they'd created a substantially different primary system come the end of August.
September 30thThe first debate is in August. If Trump is still attracting crowds and sucking up media attention by the end of September then it will be clear he is (a) in it to win it and (b) has staying power beyond the Not-Romney model.
RCP graph for 2012 if you put the cursor on the Not-Romney's high-points and then move it to the place where their colored line crosses someone else's on the way down, you note that each candidate has about a month as the king-of-the-mountain. If we see Trump at the top (more or less) today then if he makes it to mid-August he's in the Not-Romney zone. If he makes it to the end of September, though? The mold's broken. At that point the RNC should be very concerned.
DecemberOne of the problems with the current configuration is that there's little reason for anyone to drop out if they are in the top-10 slots (if you are cash-strapped, you only really need to camp-out in Iowa). The Omnivore thinks that the race will incline towards inertia: the longer Trump stays in the top 3 positions, the longer he's likely to remain there. If he crosses the Sept-30 threshold, he's a serious contender.
If he makes it into December, though, he's going to be a problem in the debates. At this point Trump should be looked at as serious opportunity-cost by the RNC. There are only three top-slots and if Trump is inhabiting one of them an otherwise viable candidate is being strangled like a tree wrapped by a parasitic vine.
Worse, he's also taking votes from the further down candidates who might otherwise be able to "break away." The loss of Carson (who can't win) isn't such a big deal--but guys like Cruz or Huckabee may get even crazier and have more credibility with which to do damage to the nomination process. If a slew of ex-governors and senators start saying the process is illegitimate the RNC should be rightly worried.
The First Three StatesA lot hinges on Florida: it's the break-away point for Jeb / Marco. Walker, Cruz, or even Huckabee could win in Iowa (Walker is favored) and North Carolina (New Hampshire is, The Omnivore thinks, a little murkier). By the time you get to Florida, though, you're playing in the major leagues. If Trump wins or "shows" (top 3) in the first three states then we are seeing real numbers on the board.
Trump is apparently putting a substantial team in place in Iowa and New Hampshire. Gingrich's volcanic personality carried North Carolina in 2012. If Trump can squeeze out high scores he will probably end the bids of candidates like Carson and Huckabee who are relying on infusions of electoral-oxygen (and donor cash) from credibility in early voting states.
A quick note: One of the problems with the RNC calendar and modern elections is that even if you DO get a big infusion of cash after Iowa, you probably can't effectively spend it to ramp up operations fast enough to really leverage it. This plan to do well early on and build a national apparatus may a relic of an earlier age (h/t to John Dickerson on the Slate Political Podcast).
If December is a soft-threshold of concern, the first three states are the "real damage" part of the story. At this point the RNC is looking at 'real loses.'
FloridaIf the first three states are the minor-leagues, winner-take-all Florida is the first game of the majors. A very expensive market and crucial (purple) swing-state, Florida is a must-win for the Republicans. If the Democrats win it in November it's probably all over. The Omnivore thinks that the top-three slots in Florida are the real contenders. If Trump places then Bush, Walker, or Rubio will be (more or less) shut out.
That would be panic-time for the RNC. The fear here, though, is that while there will be giant buckets of cash sloshing around, it is unlikely that anyone will have as much to spend as Trump (if he's as rich as he says he is). It's also problematic that Trump has some infrastructure here already (he lives part time in Doral in Miami). That places him closer to the metal than Walker, for example.
If Trump wins in Florida--or comes in second--he could be the Republican Nominee for president. . . . He might even be President of the United States.
ConclusionsThe RNC is fond of saying how strong their field is this year. On paper there's some credibility to that--lots of ex (and current) governors. Some solid (and first term) senators. It's a good line-up. However . . . Right now Trump is making them look like punks, scurrying around trying to figure out how to denounce him without burning themselves on an over-heated base.
At the same time, Trump is out there giving large speeches, stirring up the crowds, and flying around on Trump-Force-One (the biggest, classiest plane ever!). If the RNC line-up is really so strong, how come they're folding before a guy who, very likely, cannot win a national election?
How come Rince Priebus is left looking like a ineffectual substitute teacher trying to govern an unruly popular student who doesn't give a fuck? The Omnivore listed to Trump yesterday and thinks the answer is clear: The GOP has evolved to a post-politician model where the realities of governing are entirely disconnected from the message the candidates must send. This logically creates a need for a non-politician candidate.
Carson (or maybe Cruz, who barely counts as he has battled strongly with his fellows in congress and shut down the government) would seem to fit the bill--but both of them require heavy donor-class and RNC support to be viable--so they're ultimately leashed. Trump is the evolutionary pinnacle of GOP environment and he's a candidate who knows exactly how to sell himself.