Yes, Donald Trump is the front-runner in a crowded Republican primary field. Yes, he can draw votes from Democrats. But those two facts don't mean Trump can win in the general election. As 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney argued during a speech designed to stop the Trump surge in its tracks, "Trump relishes any poll that reflects what he thinks of himself, but polls are also saying that he will lose to Hillary Clinton."
Trump has defied reports that he has gone too far and that his campaign is doomed before, but the general election is a different ballgame than the GOP primary. Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg produced research that shows a Trump nomination threatens to drive moderate Republicans from the party. What's more, The Donald's anti-immigrant, anti-Latino, anti-Muslim and anti-women remarks threaten to pump up turnout among Democratic voters in November.
To save the party from a Trump nomination -- and an exodus of GOP voters -- Romney outlined the case against Trump: He's crude. His language and "absurd third-grade theatrics" set a bad example for children. Trump is clueless about foreign policy. His protectionist schemes could lead to a recession. Most of all, Romney railed, Trump is "a phony."
Republican super PACs have amassed information about Trump University that suggests that the now-defunct institution -- the subject of three lawsuits, including a class action complaint with 5,000 plaintiffs, alleging fraud -- did not live up to its marketing. Trump boasted during Thursday night's Fox News debate that Trump U had a Better Business Bureau rating of A. Trump has claimed that he "handpicked" instructors, but FactCheck.org found a top executive deposition that attested Trump picked none of the instructors. Worse, the most recent known rating -- from 2010 -- from the bureau was D-minus.
The super PAC American Future Fund, which promotes "conservative, free market ideals," produced a video that features Sherri, a single mother who sank more than $35,000 into Trump U. "Trusting him," she says, was "a huge mistake." And: "All of it was just a fake. America, do not make the same mistake that I did with Donald Trump. I got hurt badly, and I'd hate to see this country get hurt by Donald Trump." During the Fox News debate, Sen. Marco Rubio called the school a "fake university."
There's more -- the bankruptcies, for example -- but you get the idea.
The fake facts that Trump promotes are scarier in their fashion. On Thursday night, Trump repeated a fable about the wife or wives of a 9/11 terrorist or terrorists flying out of the United States to a foreign land, where "they watched their husband on television flying into the World Trade Center, flying into the Pentagon and probably trying to fly into the White House." As PolitiFact noted, the only 9/11 terrorist who had not cut off ties with his family had a girlfriend in Germany. If Trump cannot get this straight, what else has his brain muddled?
Pundits are taken with the symbolism of the prim Romney going after the blowhard billionaire in blunt language filled with put-downs. The most striking part of Romney's address, however, was his failure to endorse an alternative candidate. Instead, Romney laid out a course that ends with a contested convention.
Alas, Romney noted, "the rules of political history have pretty much all been shredded during this campaign." Ergo: "Given the current delegate selection process, that means that I'd vote for Marco Rubio in Florida and for John Kasich in Ohio and for Ted Cruz or whichever one of the other two contenders has the best chance of beating Mr. Trump in a given state." Translation: Vote for anyone who can keep Trump from walking into the Cleveland convention with the 1,237 delegates needed to win the nomination in the first vote.
During the debate, Fox News' Bret Baier asked Kasich about the Romney blueprint. Kasich replied that he finds process questions boring. I talked to Cruz spokesman Ron Nehring earlier in the day. Nehring doesn't want voters to go for Rubio in Florida and Kasich in Ohio. "We win by winning," Nehring concluded.
California GOP wise man Rob Stutzman supports the Romney battle plan. He sees a Cruz victory as "rather implausible." If Rubio can boost his poll numbers in Florida and become the nominee, Stutzman argued, Rubio has a better chance of winning in November than Cruz. Stutzman sees a "progression of firebreaks. The next firebreak is: Deny Trump 50 percent." If Kasich and Rubio don't win their home states, the establishment will go to plan B -- with a 2016-only independent conservative candidate running against Trump and the Democratic nominee to stop a stampede of voters fleeing the Grand Old Party. Think: the Alamo.