Trump on a stage with nine people who are serious about being the Republican nominee against Hillary Clinton is an absolute disaster for the GOP.More Cillizza, from a few days ago:
Having Donald Trump on the Republican debate stage ... would be a total nightmare for the Republican Party.Does Trump have that potential? Could his debate performance really do serious damage to the image of the Republican Party?
Here's why: Donald Trump will say almost anything to get a rise out of people. He is in the entertainment business, a professional provocateur of some renown. The business he is not in, of course, is politics.
That's a big problem for a party desperately working to prove it is ready, willing and able to take the reins of government back from Democrats. The most important thing for Republicans to accomplish in this debate season is to show they are serious about governance and have ideas on how to do things better than Barack Obama has done over the past eight-ish years....
Trump has the potential to blow up those well-laid plans.
I would love to think so. Unfortunately, it's not inevitable. You see, we know what happens when eccentrics and provocateurs get into debates, because we've seen it in the past. By Election Day, their debate presence really doesn't count for that much.
Have we already forgotten Jimmy McMillan, of the Rent Is Too Damn High Party, who ran for mayor of New York in 2013 and governor of New York in 2010 and 2014? Here's a short highlight reel from a 2010 gubernatorial debate in which McMillan not only denounced the rent (for being too damn high) but also said cryptically, "As a karate expert, I will not talk about anyone up here," and, later, expressed broad-mindedness about non-traditional marriages ("Rent Is Too Damn High Party feels if you want to marry a shoe, I'll marry you").
McMillan was a diversion -- but he was a minor one at best. In the rest of the debate, the major-party candidates said what they came to say (and as you can see in the clip, Andrew Cuomo, the eventual winner of this race, deftly responded to McMillan by saying, "I'm with Jimmy -- the rent is too damn high"). By Election Day, McMillan was largely forgotten.
Also in 2010, there was Rachel Brown, a Lyndon LaRouche follower who'd made a name for herself by confronting Congressman Barney Frank at a town hall meeting:
... she held up a photo of Obama with a Hitler moustache and harangued Frank about Obamacare. “Why do you continue to support a Nazi policy, as Obama has expressly supported this policy,” she asked Frank. “Why are you supporting it?”Brown went on to challenge Frank for the Democratic nomination, and eventually Frank did an hour-long debate with her:
I'll admit I've only watched bits of this. Brown's platform is a stew of progressivism (calling for the return of Glass-Steagall) and LaRouchy lunacy (at 14:40, she blames the Iraq War on the British Empire, because, well, LaRouchites blame most bad things on the British Empire). She compares President Obama to Nero in her opening statement -- not exactly how you win Democratic votes in Massachusetts.
Frank went on to win the primary handily, and the general election after that. And Brown was more or less forgotten -- though she reemerged as a candidate for the same congressional seat in 2012, when Frank was retiring, and got herself into a debate again. (The favorite, Joseph Kennedy III, won the primary and the general election.)
Now, granted, Brown and McMillan don't have Trump's money and aren't the performers Trump is, and state and local elections aren't like presidential contests.
But the last Republican presidential contest had its share of clowns. So ask yourself: If Michele Bachmann hadn't ranted about vaccines and Herman Cain hadn't incessantly chanted "9-9-9" and Rick Perry hadn't said "Oops," would Mitt Romney have beaten Barack Obama? I think Romney still would have lost. Romney lost it for Romney. Voters rejected Romney's platform and Romney the candidate. They didn't vote against Bachmann, Cain, and Perry in November 2012.
Trump's fellow candidates will chuckle at what he says, or just nod. Then they'll move on to their talking points. The debate moderators and the mainstream press will consider it their duty to present the GOP field apart from Trump as a set of serious, sober-sided potential Leaders of the Free World. Cillizza and Chuck Todd and Ron Fournier and their colleagues will insist that we focus our attention on the predictable things said by Bush and Rubio and Walker and Paul, and the coverage will be skewed accordingly.
So I think Trump will be fun, but he won't do nearly the damage I wish he would.