Republican presidential candidate, businessman Donald Trump speaks during the sixth Republican presidential debate at the North Charleston Coliseum, Jan. 14, 2016, in North Charleston, S.C.
Photo by Chuck Burton/AP

From ‘panic’ to ‘acceptance’ on Trump?

For much of 2015, one of the most commonly uttered words in Republican circles was “panic,” as in, “irritation is giving way to panic” among GOP insiders “as it becomes increasingly plausible” that Donald Trump might win the Republicans’ presidential nomination.
But NBC News raised an interesting point this morning about the stages of grief.
[H]ave we finally reached the last stage, acceptance? Now none of this means that Trump is going to win the GOP presidential nomination. But it does mean that he’s become much more acceptable to Republicans than we ever thought possible; that he’s indelibly shaped the GOP contest in his own image; and that he’s in firm control of this GOP race.
I feel like this is the first week of the entire cycle in which I’ve seen and heard a growing number of Republicans reach this point. National Review’s Rich Lowry noted this week, for example, that from his conversations, the GOP establishment’s mood on Trump is “moving from fear/loathing to resignation/rationalization.” (MSNBC’s Chris Hayes added soon after that he’s heard the same thing.)
Jon Chait flagged examples of others making similar comments. The Daily Caller’s Matt Lewis quoted a Republican source saying, “On the ground? Everyone literally is getting resigned to Trump as nominee.” Ari Fleischer, the former press secretary in the Bush/Cheney White House, said he now gives Trump a 60% of winning the party’s nomination.
Slate’s Jamelle Bouie added this morning, “[I]nstead of brushing Trump aside, Republican elites are learning to love the Donald and accept him as a potential nominee, or at least a candidate they can work with.”
Try to imagine commentary like this from, say, August. It would have been almost unfathomable.
This is not, by the way, a prediction saying I think Trump will be the nominee. A grand total of zero votes have been cast – the Iowa caucuses, which Trump may very well lose, is still 16 days away – and there are all kinds of questions we don’t know the answer to, not the least of which is whether the frontrunner’s backers will actually show up when it counts.
My point, however, is that we appear to have entered a very different, largely unexpected stage in the race: one in which Republicans stop obsessing over when Trump will collapse and start accepting the idea that maybe, just maybe, he won’t.
The “stages of grief” framework is admittedly a bit of a cliche, but NBC’s First Read may be onto something here. Republicans were initially in denial (“Come Labor Day, Trump will be an unpleasant memory”), which led to anger (“This guy is going to tear the party apart and hand Congress to Democrats!”). Soon after, there was some bargaining (“What can we do to elevate someone from the establishment ‘lane’?”), followed by plenty of depression (“I’ve seen the latest polls and I need another drink.”)
The fifth stage is acceptance. Watch this space.