Not so long ago, Republicans couldn't wait until the presidential debates finally arrived and their designated alpha male, Donald Trump, finally faced off against Hillary Clinton in front of the American people. Surely the sickly, frail, "no stamina" Clinton, unable to defend herself or her record, would melt under Trump's unrelenting 90-minute assault.
In fact, before the first debate back on Sept, 26, Newt Gingrich even went so far as to call Trump the best debater he had ever seen, a veritable "Babe Ruth of debating."
Then it got humiliating. After that first debate, the sycophantic Gingrich called it an "enormous, historic victory" for Trump, concluding that "the Intellectual Yet Idiot class is so out of touch with America that they don’t even realize how badly they are doing and how well Trump is doing." And Newt was right ... kinda. The Intellectual Yet Idiot class that he epitomizes WAS out of touch with America, because Trump not only lost that debate badly, it marked the beginning of the near-total collapse of his campaign.
Before that "enormous, historic" debate victory, Trump had closed the race to within a couple of percentage points, and at Fivethirtyeight.com, the polls-plus model gave Trump a 45 percent chance of becoming president. The two national polls released yesterday, just three weeks later, put the margin at 12 points and 11 points.
There's a pattern at work here. As long as Republicans are able to gin up their outrage machine against Clinton, pushing a cartoon image of the Democratic nominee, they do OK. But when Clinton herself appears before the American people -- at the marathon Benghazi hearing in which she coolly dismantled her Republican opposition, at the Democratic convention, and now in the debates -- that cartoon image becomes much harder to sustain.
As Politico warns, the current numbers put Trump at 38-40 percent of the electorate, "perilously close to a historic rebuke from American voters for a major-party candidate." (Barry Goldwater got 38.5 percent; George McGovern got 37.5 percent.) Arizona is in play. Utah maybe in play. Possibly even Georgia. It's also worth noting that a Trump defeat by any margin would be the sixth time in the last seven presidential cycles in which the GOP lost the popular vote.
And already, the post-defeat civil war within the Republican Party is beginning to take shape. Sean Hannity has gone into perpetual whine mode about Paul Ryan and the GOP establishment stabbing Trump in the back and costing him the election. "Win lose or draw, we need a long conversation about whether he should be speaker of the House," Hannity says.
And at Breitbart, former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo is complaining about "overt sabotage" and "treason" by GOP leaders, predicting that "Whether successful or not in denying Trump a victory on November 8, it undoubtedly is the opening shot in a civil war that will erupt full scale on November 9."