Las Vegas, NV – With Dr. Ben Carson and Donald Trump leading the 2016 Republican field for president, the GOP establishment is in full panic mode – even prompting desperate speculation about drafting failed 2012 candidate Mitt Romney to run again. And instead of standing up to these fringe candidates, the rest of the Republican field has sprinted to the right in a frantic attempt to embrace their offensive and out-of-touch positions.
“Last night, our Democratic presidential candidates had a serious and substantive debate on their plans to address our national security challenges, invest in the middle class and keep America moving forward. Republican candidates like Ben Carson and Donald Trump are attracting wall-to-wall media coverage for their extreme rhetoric and sideshow antics, but the entire GOP field – from Carson and Trump to Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz – is peddling a failed and reckless agenda that would drag our country back to the disastrous policies of the Bush administration.” — Nevada State Democratic Party Press Secretary Stewart Boss
In normal times, the way forward would be obvious. The wannabes would launch concerted campaigns, including television attack ads, against the front-runners. But even if the other candidates had a sense of what might work this year, it is unclear whether it would ultimately accrue to their benefit. Trump’s counterpunches have been withering, while Carson’s appeal to the base is spiritual, not merely political. If someone was able to do significant damage to them, there’s no telling to whom their supporters would turn, if anyone.
“The rest of the field is still wishing upon a star that Trump and Carson are going to self-destruct,” said Eric Fehrnstrom, a former adviser to 2012 nominee Mitt Romney. But, he said, “they have to be made to self-destruct. …Nothing has happened at this point to dislodge Trump or Carson.”
Fehrnstrom pointed out that the fourth debate passed this week without any candidate landing a blow against Trump or Carson. “We’re about to step into the holiday time accelerator,” he said. “You have Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, then Iowa and a week later, New Hampshire, and it’s going to be over in the blink of an eye.”
According to other Republicans, some in the party establishment are so desperate to change the dynamic that they are talking anew about drafting Romney — despite his insistence that he will not run again. Friends have mapped out a strategy for a late entry to pick up delegates and vie for the nomination in a convention fight, according to the Republicans who were briefed on the talks, though Romney has shown no indication of reviving his interest.
For months, the GOP professional class assumed Trump and Carson would fizzle with time. Voters would get serious, the thinking went, after seeing the outsiders share a stage with more experienced politicians at the first debate. Or when summer turned to fall, kids went back to school and parents had time to assess the candidates. Or after the second, third or fourth debates, certainly.
None of that happened, of course, leaving establishment figures disoriented.