Months ago, during the Summer of Trump, Republicans looked at the appearance of this gross, comic, orange interloper among them with a mix of shock and disdain. Fox News tried to discredit him as a serious candidate; nobody else onstage knew quite what to do with him. Since then, Trump has created facts on the ground, making himself an indispensable element of the party. He now seems completely normal.
Part of it is that Trump has gotten better, more polished. His cartoonish facial gestures come less frequently. He is less outrageous (and less funny). He seems to control his tone more effectively.
But mainly, Republicans have decided to start treating him as a regular candidate and a member of their party in good standing, rather than an impostor who has hijacked it on a lark. He faced the same softball questions as everybody else, with no follow-ups. (Would you put your business in a blind trust if elected? Trump: Oh, yeah, I’d let my kids run it. In other words, no.)
Jeb Bush went after Trump on his unfathomable proposal to exclude all Muslim immigrants, but he did so almost as a supplicant, asking him to “reconsider.” It was as if Bush was afraid Trump would turn on him again, and Trump, recognizing Bush’s gesture as a plea for mercy, reciprocated.
Signs have popped up everywhere that Republicans have not only begun to accept Trump as one of them, a regular candidate, but to even resign themselves to his candidacy.
Indeed, Trump’s numbers have not only risen, but the entire backdrop of his position has changed. The percentage of Republican voters who could see themselves supporting Trump has grown from 23 percent last March to 65 percent now. Trump could now beat Marco Rubio (a popular figure within the party) in a head-to-head matchup. He remains far from inevitable. The first vote will still not be cast for weeks. Yet those of us who believed Republican elites would kill Trump’s candidacy out of self-preservation have to face the increasingly plausible prospect that, for whatever reason, they may lay down their arms before a shot has been fired.