While Trump touched on policy proposals and current affairs, he spent most of his Tuesday speech in the early-voting state boasting about himself and attacking fellow Republicans. He repeatedly attacked Sen. Lindsay Graham, the state's longtime Republican senator who called Trump a "jackass" on Monday, as an "idiot" who "doesn't seem too bright." "You have this guy Lindsey Graham, a total light weight. Here's a guy -- in the private sector, he couldn't get a job, believe me, couldn't get a job," Trump said, later reading aloud Graham's phone number to the crowd and encouraging audience members to call it, which they did. (One attendee reported back to Trump that Graham did not pick up. His voicemail is now full.)
The Republican National Committee made no secret of the fact that party officials saw the 2012 presidential cycle as a mess. There were too many candidates, too many debates, and too much disjointed messaging, all of which undermined the party's chances. Next time, the party leaders agreed, would have to be less chaotic.
How's that working out?
Reporting from South Carolina today, msnbc's Jane C. Timm noted that GOP presidential hopeful Donald Trump quite literally read Sen. Lindsey Graham's (R-S.C.) cell-phone number out loud today, on stage, to a sizable group of voters -- twice.
The pattern is hard to miss. John McCain criticized Trump's presidential campaign, and Trump returned the favor by going after McCain's military service. Lindsey Graham criticized Trump's antics, so Trump shared Graham's personal cell-phone number. Rick Perry criticized Trump, so Trump blasted Perry as a dumb guy who "put glasses on so people will think he's smart."
At this stage of the race, most candidates are content to rely on subtlety, but Trump has skipped this phase and decided every slight deserves a ferocious and excessive response, proportionality be damned.
And it's only going to get worse.
RNC officials must be beside themselves at this point and it's hard to blame them. The one thing they didn't want was a ridiculous spectacle -- a circus featuring nothing but cringe-worthy fluff -- but it's exactly what they have.
Worse, Republican officials are effectively powerless to inject some sanity into the process, and the party's heavyweight donors can't intervene because Trump already has limitless resources at his disposal.
All the while, the more offensive Trump's antics, the more the reality-show host rises in the polls -- reinforcing the perception that the Republican Party doesn't have a Donald Trump problem so much as it has a Republican voter problem.