Donald Trump just skipped the second Republican debate. He figures the nomination is in the bag. E.J. Dionne explains what is happening:
Trump wants his foes to stay weak. By not showing up, he reduces them to squabbling bit players trying to bring each other down while the major contenders offer pale imitations of his own message and values.
Republican voters once open to someone other than the former president are concluding that if they’re going to get Trumpism, they might as well go with the guy who invented it. And they’re getting little useful advice from party leaders who — as Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) told his biographer McKay Coppins — see Trump as a disaster but are too timid to say so publicly.
All of this was not inevitable:
It didn’t have to be like this, because the strength of Trump’s lock on the party is vastly exaggerated.
Sure, Trump has an unshakable base, those who would stick with him if he were indicted a dozen more times. But that hard core accounts for no more than about 35 percent of the Republican primary electorate. There really is (or was) room for someone else to break through.
But not one of them has inspired real excitement, and the politician who once seemed best placed to take on Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, has had a miserable year.
As a result, Trump has been able to combine his base with a fair share of the largest group of Republicans: those with a more or less positive view of the former president but willing to support someone else.
The sad news for the country is that Republicans let a real chance to end Trump’s career slip away. The opportunity might not come around again. Critics of the GOP enjoy observing that the more Trump is indicted, the more Republican voters flock to him. The timelines of his growing lead and his expanding list of felony counts do overlap, but there are better explanations for his comeback.
Republicans have simply not shown the courage to take Trump on. They're cowards. And, as a result, they're dancing to a madman's tune.