Is Donald Trump sowing panic in GOP?

The question for the GOP establishment is no longer whether to attack Donald Trump, but how.

Chris Keane/Reuters
US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump takes a selfie with a supporter as he prepares to leave a campaign event in Anderson, S.C. on Tuesday.

Donald Trump is still on top. He’s been No. 1 in the polls for the GOP presidential nomination for three months now and his support appears stable. A new ABC/Washington Post survey shows him as the choice of 32 percent of Republican and GOP-leaning voters – about the same as a month ago.

“The numbers suggest that mixed reviews of his performance in the second Republican debate in California did little to dampen the enthusiasm of his supporters,” write Washington Post political reporters Dan Balz and Scott Clement.

Is Trump’s persistence causing the GOP establishment to panic? Well, “panic” might not be the best word, but there’s evidence the powers-that-be are beginning to worry quite a bit about what Trump is doing to their plans. It’s dawned on them that that the chances of Trump winning the nomination might not be zero, and the chances of him affecting the nomination outcome are pretty high. For them, the question has become how to attack Trump, not whether to do it.

Right now the anti-Donald movement seems intent on hitting him as a liberal. That’s what traditional conservative groups such as the Club for Growth appear to be planning, in any case. As the plugged-in Byron York reports in the Washington Examiner, Club for Growth, and other members of the anti-tax ascendancy are looking for donors to fund an ad campaign that talks about Trump’s past donations to Democrats, his support for tax hikes on the rich, and his previous chummy relations with Hillary Clinton.

“Their core belief is that Trump cannot withstand a long and withering bombardment of negative ads,” writes Mr. York.

Jeb Bush is already out there pushing these arguments. His campaign last month produced an ad depicting Trump as a lefty Nooouuuu Yawkah. Now he’s got an opinion piece in the National Review that accuses Trump of echoing the beliefs of filmmaker Michael Moore and other arch-liberals by partially blaming George W. Bush for allowing the 9/11 attacks on the United States.

“This is a man who has previously stated he would prefer Hillary Clinton had led negotiations on the nuclear agreement with Iran,” writes former Governor Bush of Trump.

The problem with this line of attack is that it seems designed to shore up Bush’s own conservative credibility as much as tear down Trump’s. Plus, there’s little evidence Trump voters are traditional conservatives. If anything, they appear to be drawn to the Donald for his belligerence and alpha-male personality. Many love his attacks on undocumented immigrants – an issue on which Trump has outflanked the GOP field to the right.

Trump’s appeal is class-based, not ideological, according to one compelling analysis of his voters. He’s consolidated the support of the GOP’s blue collar wing, according to veteran Atlantic Media reporter Ronald Brownstein, while the party’s white collar wing remains split and searching for a candidate around which to rally.

The Donald knows better than pundits or D.C.-based consultants about the best way to reach less-educated, less-wealthy voters, in this analysis. Thus, defeating him might depend on rallying the anti-Trump forces, which are currently split among a soccer-team’s worth of candidates, as opposed to changing the minds of Trump supporters.

“For those hoping to emerge as the choice of the party’s center-right block – a list that runs from Jeb Bush to John Kasich to Chris Christie – the principal challenge is to unify the party’s white-collar wing against Trump, or whoever supplants him as the favorite of more working-class and conservative voters,” writes Mr. Brownstein.

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