They may be right about the former, but if these people believe the latter, they're living in a dream world.
On this subject, I have to defer to Washington Monthly' David Atkins:
Go to almost any major media outlet, and you’ll see the same gaggle of “expert” opinions on the Republican debate: Marco Rubio won, John Kasich impressed, and Donald Trump came off as a buffoon. CNN says so. So does Politico. Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post mostly agrees.You think, if Trump goes, that the person to fill that void is going to be John Kasich? A guy who actually defends Medicaid? And wants to make peace with marriage equality supporters?
... [But] base Republican voters are not choosing a president. They’re choosing an rebel leader who will lead an insurgent war against what they view as an increasingly dominant liberal consensus aided and abetted by establishment Republicans.
... The Republican base isn’t looking for specific policy fixes. They’re looking for a cultural warrior and savior who will put the last 60 years of progress back in a bottle and give them their country back.
Now, maybe Rubio can pick up some of Trump's support -- but I agree with Frank Rich that in the debate he came off as "pissy," a whiner rather than a warrior. To me he's always seemed callow, the world's oldest high school debater, the kind of kid who wore a suit to school every day and became peeved when he merely got an A minus. Maybe he can eventually fire up the base. But I think Rich is right: the belief that he can is "wishful thinking from Republicans who desperately hope his presence on a ticket will miraculously attract Hispanic voters to a party where xenophobia has been raging for more than a decade."
And no, I don't see Fiorina making any big moves in the polls, despite her much-praised performance in the Earlybird Special debate on Thursday -- yes, maybe she'll get into the top ten in time for the September debate, but she's certainly not going to win over any Trump loyalists now that she's backing Megyn Kelly in her war with Trump.
I realize that she came off in her debate as a serious candidate who's done some homework, and that she really, really hates Hillary Clinton -- always a plus in the GOP. But she's been in the race much longer than Trump, which means she had a chance to get the voters' attention before he sucked up all the oxygen; In the spring there was story after story after story about how impressive she's been on the campaign trail, yet she's never broken through with voters.
I honestly don't think a woman with a serious affect can appeal to Republican voters. Which women do righties like? Sarah Palin and Ann Coulter, who crack a lot of jokes and seem as if they'd rather be having drinks with the guys. Fiorina doesn't smile much -- that had a tendency to freak even non-Republican men out. (And I'm not sure she appeals to Republican women, either, given the fact that so many of them are anti-feminist traditionalists.)
These are the three candidates the establishment hopes will get Trump's votes if he's on his way out, but I think any Trump replacement is going to have to be a purist warrior -- and a man -- to succeed.