Saint Petersburg, FL -- Yes, I'm into my 15th month of writing that, like it or not, Donald Trump has the best chance to be the GOP nominee for president. That has left me and my analysis on the island of misfit toys! And during all of this, I've watched and chronicled about candidates who I know are well qualified, like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, but who have fallen by the wayside.
This past week, Mitt Romney and his many friends embarked on a plan that not only failed to stop Trump in Tuesday's primaries in Michigan and Mississippi, but actually appear to have boosted his cause. Here in Florida, Romney's recorded phone messages on behalf of Marco Rubio are going over like a lead balloon. The polling numbers in the Sunshine State prior to the Thursday debate show Trump's lead accelerating.
I completely understand that to Romney and a vast majority of longtime GOP pundits, consultants and elected officials, Trump seems like the Rodney Dangerfield of politics. They likely picture Trump as the late-comedian's iconic character Al Czervik in the 1980 comedy "Caddyshack." In the movie, Dangerfield plays a successful new-to-wealth real estate developer who slings insults at snooty members of an exclusive country club, and ends up in a high-stakes grudge golf match with the club's president.
Of course, Rodney's character prevails only after the groundskeeper, played by Bill Murray, blows up much of the entire golf course, thereby pushing Dangerfield's golf partner's ball into the cup for a last-minute victory. In the instance of Romney -- spokesman for the army of GOP powerbrokers who want to stop Trump -- it is hard to choose which of the movie's characters he would play in a remake. He certainly would be well-suited to portray the image-obsessed club president, who drives his Rolls Royce onto the club grounds and then admonishes the staff. But after Tuesday it might be better to cast Romney in Murray's spot as "exploder-in-chief."
I have to believe the usually levelheaded and non-confrontational Romney was lured into this role. But the plan displayed a total lack of understanding of Trump, his campaign and the voters.
First and foremost, Trump has created an entirely new style of politics that connects a reality TV world of voters with a reality TV superstar -- the critical word being reality. Trump's style, as sometimes crude or blunt as it might be, defies the image of politicians such as Romney, who parse their every word as they enlighten voters with their brilliant thoughts and woo them with their lofty promises.
To Romney and his establishment allies, most voters are part of the great unwashed masses. Obviously they can't decide matters for themselves. It takes Mitt Romney to tell them that they either were naive and ignorant in having voted for Trump in contests ranging from Romney's home state of Massachusetts to southern states such as South Carolina; or that they will be duped in states like Florida. In Florida, his comments and involvement are viewed by many as condescending. That comes not just from the polls but anecdotally from my neighbors here, who weren't for Trump but are livid over Romney's action.
Romney and the Stop Trump army should have also recognized that Trump is not the unsophisticated person they perceive him to be. He is a master at marketing and when hit, he punches back immediately and usually harder. No, he does not speak like a policy wonk. In fact, he hardly speaks of policy specifics at all. But when he describes "the lines" that prevent true competition among heath care insurers across state boundaries, the average voter understands what he is saying. His simple answers might not meet the expectations of the pundits and policymakers, but they resonate with a significant number of voters.
As I write this column, a debate awaits Trump in Florida. It might be the last one in which the establishment and media can try to unload on Trump and derail a likely win here. And post-Florida, the race may come down to a Trump-versus-Ted Cruz two-man battle, or still include John Kasich as well.
Unlike Romney et al, Cruz and Kasich are in touch with reality and could give Trump a true battle. But for the moment, odds favor a "Caddyshack" finish for Donald Trump.
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