No one -- with the possible exception of Donald Trump -- believes that Trump is going to be the 2016 GOP presidential nominee. The 18 percent that Trump is drawing in the poll average at Real Clear Politics is probably pretty close to his ceiling, but with a field of 16 candidates at last count, the GOP base is so divided that 18 percent can look more ominous than it really is.
The Trump balloon will collapse eventually, but it's unlikely to happen soon enough to keep him out of the early rounds of debates. So the question for other candidates is how to handle him on that stage. You could try to ignore him, but Trump is not a man to be ignored. And if his competitors all gang up on him, the political dynamics are as likely to help Trump as hurt him. One of the things that unites the GOP base is suspicion of their own party's establishment, and Trump knows how to play establishment victim perfectly.**
Instead, if the Republicans' goal is to destroy Trump, their best strategy may be to assign their best man to the job: Trump himself:
“When Donald Trump is on a stage on his own, it has a circus quality to it, or a reality show,” said GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak.
“It’s different when he’s standing there beside serious, accomplished, intelligent people. If he’s asked about how to counter ISIS, and his answer is, ‘I’m going to hit them so hard,’ that’s going to look ridiculous next to [Florida Sen. Marco] Rubio or [Texas Sen. Ted] Cruz or these other candidates,” Mackowiak added."
I understand Mackowiak's argument. For example, when a candidate for president of the United States is asked how to counter ISIS and his answer is along the lines of "We ought to bomb them back to the Stone Age," that's going to look pretty ridiculous compared to the much more rational policy proposals of, say, Ted Cruz.
Likewise, a candidate who dismisses the idea of needing a warrant to spy on suspected terrorists, saying that if you're even thinking about joining ISIS, “I’m not going to call a judge, I’m going to call a drone and kill you” -- well, that candidate would look pretty silly in a debate with, say, Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is an attorney by trade.
And surely only a flamboyant nutcase like Trump would be promising to void the Iran nuclear deal in his very first hours as president, without consulting allies and with the possibility of ordering military strikes against Iran that very day.
In short, it's difficult to draw sharp distinctions between the simplistic, emotional, knee-jerk politics advocated by Trump when the supposedly more mainstream candidates of your party are doing pretty much the same thing. It doesn't make it impossible; it does make harder than it should be.
**UPDATE: In a speech in Washington today, Rick Perry made a bold bid to bring down Trump and by doing so reinvigorate his own standing in the party.
From a transcript of his remarks:
"In times of trouble, there are two types of leaders: repairers of the breach and sowers of discord.
The sower of discord foments agitation, thrives on division, scapegoats certain elements of society, and offers empty platitudes and promises. He is without substance when one scratches below the surface.
He offers a barking carnival act that can be best described as Trumpism: a toxic mix of demagoguery, mean-spiritedness and nonsense that will lead the Republican Party to perdition if pursued.
Let no one be mistaken – Donald Trump’s candidacy is a cancer on conservatism, and it must be clearly diagnosed, excised and discarded.
It cannot be pacified or ignored, for it will destroy a set of principles that has lifted more people out of poverty than any force in the history of the civilized world – the cause of conservatism.
I feel so strongly about this because I believe conservatism is the only way forward for this country."