Let's have a reality check on Donald Trump for just a minute.
He is a Hillary Clinton donor. Many of Trump's supporters rationalize that by saying he is a good businessman and had to give to Democrats.
He is also a donor to a host of other Democrats. "Well," they say, "he lives in New York City. If he lived in a Republican state he would not be."
He has supported a Canadian style universal healthcare system. His supporters believe he has evolved.
In 2012, he said Mitt Romney's "self-deportation" immigration scheme was too harsh. Again, his supporters say, he has evolved.
Trump had been a supporter of abortion rights and told MSNBC he was evolving on gay marriage. His supporters say those are not their issues.
When Trump said he'd never asked God for forgiveness, his core supporters said they thought religion was supposed to be a private affair anyway.
When Trump said McCain was not a war hero, his core supporters applauded because [mc_name name='Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)' chamber='senate' mcid='M000303' ] had called them hobbits, racists, and more.
Essentially, his supporters do not care that Trump's past actions align with the Democrats from immigration to healthcare to social issues to donations. They don't care, because Trump is causing problems for a Republican Party that they've decided does not care about them. His supporters' excuses are rationalizations about his behavior, not necessarily sincerely held beliefs by his supporters.
With the GOP back in charge of Congress, lobbyists are having a field day. Profits look to be up.
The GOP told its voters that if they elected them, they'd stop Barack Obama. Instead, they gave Barack Obama a blank check to raise the debt ceiling to avoid a fight with him.
They told the base that they'd hold Barack Obama accountable. Instead, they did not blink in approving his replacement for Eric Holder.
They told the base they would stand up against crony capitalists. Right now they are set to reauthorize the Ex-Im Bank.
They told the GOP that they would fight against Obamacare. When [mc_name name='Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)' chamber='senate' mcid='C001098' ] said they should stop funding it, they left footprints on his back as they ran over him to stand shoulder to shoulder with Barack Obama.
When the Republican leadership told their voters and the nation that they'd oppose amnesty, they went straight to Washington to not only authorize it, but call anyone who disagreed with them racist. Many of the Republicans flat out lied on the issue and could not even be bothered to seal the border first.
With the Iranian deal, again the Republicans let Barack Obama out maneuver them.
So here comes Donald Trump who is not just running against Barack Obama, but he is running against Republicans in Washington too. He says out loud all the things a significant minority within the GOP thinks. And let's be honest. It is a minority. Trump at 24% in the ABC poll is probably his high water mark. But almost a quarter of the Republican voters like him. Mitt Romney could not get above 25% in the polls until January of 2012 and couldn't stay consistently above 30% until March of 2012.
Outside of the twitterverse, I have yet to meet many voters who are with Trump to the polls. Instead, I hear things like, "He's the only guy telling it like it is, but I don't see him as President." The one person I know well who is going Trump all the way believes both parties have so completely failed and his vote doesn't matter, that he is willing to go with Trump as a protest vote. In other words, Trump is a symptom of something larger in the minds of some Republican voters. Salena Zito has more on that issue.
Recently, Donald Trump has said several times he might run as a third party. Republicans do not get elected when there is a strong third party. Trump's third party, like all third parties, would not get the White House, but it could stop the GOP from getting the White House.
The rhetoric and attacks against Trump and his supporters are condescending and sound fearful and resentful. The reality is the condescension and rhetoric is what much of the Washington Republican establishment feels for a great deal of the base, even those who are not on Team Trump right now, but share their concerns. The Establishment has created a situation where a minority of its base, but a minority that could be influential at the polls, wants to burn it all down.
The only solution the GOP really is going to be able to offer is a candidate who is not seen as a hand picked successor to the Washington crowd. That probably hurts a guy like Jeb Bush. But getting the nominee right sets the parameters for a potential Trump third party bid. How those parameters are set decides between a John Anderson third party and a Ross Perot third party. The former is not fatal to a GOP bid. The latter most assuredly is.
The best way for the GOP to get to that point right now is to start talking about the other candidates. It is not just the press focused on Trump right now. The supporters of all the other candidates are talking about him too. The reality is that right now Trump is the only candidate in the GOP who matters because he is the only candidate creating significant buzz. Rick Perry and Jeb Bush are the two candidates who, right now, are working very hard to set themselves up as the anti-Trump for when the flirtation ends.
The supporters of all the candidates would be wise, if they really think the base needs to move on from Trump, to present their candidates as voices of change who will change Washington -- not just attack Trump and his supporters. That only makes Trump stronger and his supporters more likely to bolt a GOP many of them already see as just another corrupt Washington institution.