For months I've been telling everyone who brings it up to calm down about the summer infatuation with the cartoonish Donald Trump, whose candidacy was perfect fodder for conversation over the barbecue. Then there was the early autumn period, where it still could be dismissed because it was early autumn. These days, I keep reminding people of Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor, who was the flavor of many months in the summer and fall of 2003, culminating with a Christmas endorsement gift from former Vice President Al Gore.
And that was that. The outside insurgent, attempting to become an establishment candidate, lost his footing. By caucus night, when he finished third, he was left to remind his supporters (before he started the famous scream) that one year earlier a third-place finish would have counted as a great victory for him. That's the trouble with being the early frontrunner. If Donald Trump finishes third in Iowa, you'll hear a sigh of relief from the Beltway.
The problem is that for Donald Trump to finish third, someone else has to finish first and second, and if Ben Carson is taking up one of those spots (as he is now), I'd be hard-pressed to predict who wins.
It's not that Donald Trump is having such a wonderful adventure — he's clearly hit a ceiling with voters, and if you add his tally with Ben Carson's, that still leaves more than half of Republican voters up for grabs. But no one is grabbing them.
Let's be honest: Where is Jeb Bush?
He had a line the other day that I actually thought was pretty funny. It was about Trump's tendency to judge people — including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former President George W. Bush — by what bad things (e.g., the war in Afghanistan or 9/11, respectively) happened while he or she was in office. Jeb Bush said that at this rate, Trump will soon be blaming FDR for Pearl Harbor. Funny, yes, even if it's likely to be lost in social media. But a good moment for Bush? Nah.
The problem is that Jeb Bush looks so darn defensive and small when he takes on Trump. It's a weird dynamic. Usually you gain stature when you take on the frontrunner, and the frontrunner loses stature by taking on the single-digit crowd trailing behind. But nothing is at it usually is with Trump, who gains stature attacking the candidate who should be the frontrunner but is running in single digits; while everyone else seems to lose ground every time they take on Trump.
"How can Trump get away with it?" It's a question people ask me some version of all the time. The short answer is that he can't, and if you need a longer version, Google the 15 stupidest things he — or Ben Carson — has ever said, and don't blame me for the amount of times you smack your forehead.
Republican caucus attendees are a different group from general election voters. Very different. In Iowa, men predominate in the caucuses, even though women dominate in the general election there. Trump is never going to win among women, or moderates, or minorities, or lots of other people who could cost him a general election or even a head-to-head primary. But when you're talking about contests in which 27 percent makes you the frontrunner, and white males are predominating, yes, Trump can win Iowa.
And yes, I guess it's true that if the race doesn't get narrowed down soon enough, and if all the conventional candidates fall flat, it is even theoretically possible than Donald Trump could be the Republican nominee.
But he will never win the presidency.
To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.