WASHINGTON: Donald Trump prospers where other candidates perish. His abrasive rhetoric, repudiated by some, is embraced by many more.
But after comments on Tuesday that could be interpreted as a call for violence against his rival Hillary Clinton or her judicial nominees, observers, including stalwarts within his own Republican Party, were wondering aloud whether the Republican’s campaign is beyond repair.
“The Republican Party needs to start examining quickly their options for removing the Republican nominee,” former GOP congressman Joe Scarborough, now a television host, wrote in a Washington Post opinion column.
Trump was the unsinkable candidate throughout the primaries, besting 16 other Republican rivals, infuriating and entrancing voters with rhetoric while fuelling a year-long media frenzy over The Donald.
He clashed harshly with a female Fox News anchor, inflaming debate about his treatment of women. He called Mexican immigrants “rapists,” alienating the powerful Hispanic voting bloc. He called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country, drawing widespread concern about bigotry.
And yet no controversy has proved serious enough to torpedo Trump’s candidacy.
But the general election is widely seen as a different animal than the primaries, and recent polls show his campaign listing badly after a series of stumbles in which critics accused him of disrespecting military families.
He trails Clinton by nearly eight points nationally, according to a RealClearPolitics average.
Seldom has a candidate bounced back from such poor poll numbers less than three months before an election in the modern era, but it has happened.
In May 1988, Democrat Michael Dukakis stormed into the lead against vice president
George H.W. Bush and held it for more than three months, taking a 17-point advantage in August, according to Gallup.
But Bush regained the lead shortly after the Republican convention and coasted to victory.
John McCain surged ahead of Barack Obama in 2008 to a five-point advantage after the Republican convention in September, only to fade to defeat.
Trump has no such convention luxury ahead of him. He already enjoyed his post-convention bump late last month, prior to the Democratic confab.
“Whoever is leading two weeks after the second convention has won every time,” Christopher Wlezien, a government professor at University of Texas at Austin, told Agence France-Presse.
“Preferences are substantially baked by that point.”
Recent polls show Trump trailing in crucial battleground states Ohio and Pennsylvania, and virtually tied with Clinton in Florida.
Traditionally Republican strongholds Georgia and Arizona are now described as “in play,” with one recent Georgia poll putting Clinton ahead by four points.
With pressure building on the provocative billionaire to stay on message, he has proven to be a bridge too far for many Republicans. Fifty senior national security experts wrote an open letter this week saying Trump “lacks the character, values, and experience” to be president.
In a scathing editorial, The New York Times appeared to agree. “The time has come for Republicans — including Mr. McCain — to repudiate Mr. Trump once and for all,” it said.
‘No power’ to dump Trump
Although a movement is afoot among some Republicans to dump Trump, scrapping a fairly elected presidential nominee from the ticket would be unprecedented in the modern era.
Longtime Republican National Committee member Morton Blackwell, president of the Leadership Institute which trains conservative activists, said the committee has “no power” to remove a nominee.
“They simply can not override the decision of the national convention,” said Blackwell, who was a Ted Cruz supporter but now backs Trump.
Doing so would effectively require a political coup, an effort that would likely end up in court, sullying the party at a critical juncture.
Even if it worked, no Republican heavyweight has stepped forward to serve as savior.
Trump is likely looking towards the upcoming three debates, the first of which is scheduled for September 26, as a way to improve his standing.
“I will absolutely do three debates,” Trump told Time magazine.
“But I have to see the conditions,” he said, adding he reserved the right to challenge the choice of moderators.
History shows the debates have impacted close races, notably the 1960 contest between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. But a strong debate performance does not ensure victory.
Republican Mitt Romney dealt a blow against Obama in their first debate in 2012. One month later Obama comfortably won re-election.