Having spent the better part of this week suddenly fielding calls from donors and elected officials who’ve been otherwise adamant that I should give up and get on the Trump bandwagon, it is clear Trump has done himself real damage and people are privately reconsidering his nomination. This is unlike the primary in that, for example, Trump attacked Judge Curiel in March and the media ignored it. Now they have seized on it and put him on defense in a way he has not been since attacking Ben Carson as a child molester.
Republicans who thought Trump could be controlled and reasoned with are finally starting to see the Trump that those of us who are against him have seen. The creep factor is intensifying as more Howard Stern stories come out. Trump, in his own words, commented on how good looking Paris Hilton was at 12 and then discussed how he and his wife watched Paris Hilton’s porn tape. Creepy.
To mollify Republicans, on Tuesday night, Trump shackled himself to a TelePrompter, doing his best Obama impression. That, combined with his statement that he had been misconstrued, was an admission against interest that he had damaged himself. Republicans who had come to terms with Trump are again nervous and fretting.
Based on all my conversations this week, here is how I think it will play out.
If Trump can go the next two weeks without unforced errors and can do interviews along the way without embarrassing himself or the party, his nomination is assured. Trump has to be able to go out, without the Teleprompter, give speeches, and also give press interviews. If he hides in a bunker for the next two weeks, he will damage himself with prominent Republicans and donors. They need to see that he really is growing up and toning down.
If Trump can do that, he is the nominee, and not just the presumptive nominee.
But if Trump cannot control himself and exercise self-discipline in the next two weeks, the Republican convention is going to spiral out of control and look to a savior. That savior is most likely going to come from Wisconsin. It will not be Paul Ryan, but Scott Walker.
Right now there are several separate similar efforts to unbind the delegates at the convention. The Rules Committee is key and sources I talk to expect the delegates to be split on the committee with about 30% for Cruz, 25% for Trump, and 45% willing to go in the direction that saves the party destruction. If Trump continues on like this week, those separate similar efforts will become one effort.
Behind the scenes, it has not gone unnoticed that many of the major donors who are still opposed to Trump were also Scott Walker fans. There are rumors cropping up that Walker might be wiling to entertain being a dark horse candidate if we get to the convention and Trump has spiraled out of control. Walker’s withdrawal of his Trump endorsement was seen as a positive sign in that direction.
Missing in all of this is Ted Cruz.
Nothing will happen at the convention without Ted Cruz’s blessing. Cruz may be placed in the very unique position of having to be the statesman and lead his delegates. Because of the remaining animosity between Cruz and establishment players, Cruz might very well be able to shape a ticket that benefits Cruz without putting him in the top slot. If that ticket then goes on to lose to Hillary, Cruz is the one who stopped Trump and put the party above his own desires when 2020 comes around. If the ticket wins, he becomes President of the Senate before becoming President of the United States. Or he just fully takes on leadership of the conservative movement.
Cruz and Walker are becoming key players as Trump continues to falter. The donor class feels comfortable with Walker and they think he could truly be persuaded to do it. The conservatives are comfortable with Cruz and recognize he has to be involved because of his delegate count and the personal loyalty of his delegates.
All of this hinges on the next two to three weeks of Trump. Trump is about to come under withering attack by the Democrats. The media focus is growing. And the drumbeat to release his tax returns is about to become deafening. A smart person might just conclude that not all the attacks and investigations now being conducted by the media are originating with Democrats.
More Republican governors, senators, and representatives are starting to fear disaster in November with Trump as the nominee. The chances for loss of the Senate is growing. Trump trying to convince Republican donors that he does not need a massive data operation while being convinced he can win California and Maryland has made senior Republicans and major donors very queasy. That Trump has hired a pollster to try to win New York is another signal to donors that Trump is a terrible investment living in delusion.
These next two weeks are going to be critical for Trump, who must show he can be unscripted, hold his own in interviews, and not blow himself up. If he cannot do it, behind the scenes wheels are already beginning to turn to yank the nomination from him and the party elders from Romney to the Bushes will take discreet and decisive action.
Trump has no more latitude. The leaks to Bloomberg of his conference call with surrogates ended that. He now must put up or shut up.