I'm spit-balling with this post, basically thinking out loud. If it doesn't make sense, I apologize. I'm just trying to figure out the calculus behind the anti-Trump movement within the GOP.
Charles Krauthammer has a piece on why Trump is not a 'defender of the faith' and the fact that his polling strength with Evangelicals is built on trickery and deception. He's wrong. Evangelicals like everyone else, sense the country is faltering badly and that's the source of Trump's strength. Krauthammer proceeds to attempt to tear down Trump but again, he does so in an incorrect way that will not work. Trump so far has been bulletproof in the polls. There's a reason for that.
So far any attacks on Trump have been diffused because unlike regular politicians people believe he intends to do what he says. He's going to fix the economy. He's going to have free trade but on a level playing field. He's going to rebuild the military. He's going to build a wall. Whether he succeeds in all of that is practically a moot point. His strength comes from the fact he completely intends to do it. That's different from Business As Usual establishment Republicans and Democrats.
While the focus of the media has shifted to the debate mudslinging, the focus of the attacks on Trump have shifted in a different way. That's the real story.
Initially the GOP establishment had a raft of candidates, including the invincible Jeb Bush. They figured that they could ignore Trump and his bluster would take himself out. It didn't happen. Too many establishment types in the race vying for the same voters virtually ensured Trump a head start. It was foolish to think beyond that Iowa there should still be a Bush, a Kasich, a Rubio and a Christie still trying to win. Ego most certainly played a part in that.
Realizing that Trump had some momentum the first approach other candidates took was to attack Trump's conservative bona fides. He's a liberal. He's going to appoint liberal Supreme Court jutices. Hr's not really going to build a wall. But Trump kept winning.
His conservative bona fides don't matter for reasons similar to those that Krauthammer enumerates with Evangelicals. Voters are making a trade-off - giving up perfection in exchange for a big shake-up of the status quo that is clearly not working. Rightly or wrongly, that's what they are thinking. That line of attack, while actually meaningful, isn't going to work. 3 liberal Supreme Court justice appointments would sink the country. But people aren't seeing that long term, they're seeing a country stuck on stupid in D.C. and in need of a shock.
Rubio briefly pivoted to Trump having no specifics (remember the circles around the states exchange in the second to last debate?) but did not stick with that approach for long. The problem with that one is that Trump has an out for the specifics attack - he says he'll get the smartest people. That won't hold up against Clinton. The last debate the panel tried to take him on with specifics about cutting waste. He danced well enough but that won't be effective forever. That's the biggest problem facing Trump - he can't skirt specifics forever. "Believe me", "Kudlow", "You're polling at 15%" will wear thin before November.
But there wasn't enough time and effort given to this tactic. Ultimately, tricky and specific questions could be his undoing. Maybe not. President Obama once talked about visiting 57 states. It didn't hurt him.
The establishment getting desperate decided to chop away at his strength of really honestly wanting to help the country - he's not honest, so don't trust him. He's a "con man", "a liar". The ad hominem attacks have started. While it smacks of desperation, it's still the next logical step. They've tried not conservative, they've tried not qualified and those attacks haven't worked. Now the liar/con man attacks have to stick or else they are left with some truly desperate measures.
A consolidation of anti-Trump candidates into Rubio alone is the second to last option for the establishment. Rubio is the establishments last chance in a head to head contest. It's a weak plan for a couple of reasons. Firstly Rubio would have to be the guy. Kasich is delusional if he thinks he can win anywhere but Ohio. And it with absolute certainty it cannot be Cruz. The establishment would prefer Trump to Cruz because Trump has shrewdly hinted he's flexible and they can therefore work with him, whereas Cruz wants the reforms Trump claims to be ready to do, e.g. abolish the IRS.
Trump seems to see this and is shrewdly being nicer to Cruz and attacking Rubio instead. He wants Cruz to be the last man standing against him because the establishment will end up backing him and not Cruz.
Also the Rubio solution requires both Kasich and Cruz bow out. Neither seems likely. In addition Rubio seems far less comfortable in the debates and in general than a few weeks ago. He seems less like the guy.
That leaves a brokered convention where the nomination gets pulled out from under Trump (assuming he's leading at that point) and given to Rubio or perhaps even Romney. That's a nuclear option because it means maintaining the status quo at the cost of the general election. Not only will Trump voters turn on the party, some of those who had previously supported the establishment, believing they have the country's best interest at heart and a better deportment to boot, will also balk. A brokered convention will indeed blow up the GOP.
Will Trump be stopped? I can't say. Is he stoppable? I think he is but I think it will take a surge for Cruz and a two man race. I don't think that's going to happen.
How will he do against Hillary Clinton? I think he's the most beatable candidate remaining versus Hillary, but he's already exceeded expectations. Maybe that will continue.