I remember a year ago when Donald Trump began to dominate the political news, I thought he had mastered a brilliant campaign tactic: Every few days he would insult a competitor or tweet a politically incorrect statement or pull an off-the-wall policy out of his fertile imagination and the manic, 24/7 media machine would stay focused on him while leaving other candidates starved for attention.
Now, though, I realize this was not some cleverly designed tactic, it is just who he is and how he rolls. The widespread expectation that Mr. Trump would, at some point, adopt a more cautious, more calibrated, more "presidential" style was simply another failure of conventional thinkers to understand the man. Mr. Trump cannot stop being Mr. Trump.
Day after day, week after week, Mr. Trump's critics have been waiting for him to finally go too far, become too boorish, spout one rude remark too many. And day after day, week after week, Mr. Trump's freewheeling braggadocio has only seemed to make him more beloved by his supporters and more impervious to the attacks from other campaigns and the media. When he bragged a couple of months ago that he could gun down someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue in New York and his people would still love him, he was absolutely right. Nothing he has said or done has shaken the ardor of his faithful following.
But he has done plenty to shake up the Republican establishment. Many of the GOP's biggest patrons, including the billionaire Koch Brothers, want no part of him. Very few Republicans in Congress have given him a ringing endorsement, many have denounced him and the rest have taken the awkward position of supporting "the party's nominee" while barely masking their revulsion at the disrupting person who is that nominee. Mr. Trump's running feud with Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the parents of a heroic Army captain killed in Iraq, pushed several notable Republicans, including past California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, to announce they are supporting Hillary Clinton. And the Republican foreign policy brain trust, already freaked out by Mr. Trump's bromance with Russian President Vladimir Putin, has been agitated further by their nominee's recent musings that Mr. Putin's land grab of Crimea was justified.
Reportedly, Republican Party operatives are so worried about the disorganized state of Mr. Trump's campaign that they are making contingency plans in case The Donald decides to quit the presidential race -- something that seems highly unlikely, but not totally out of the realm of possibility with such an unorthodox candidate. One Trump critic, Rick Wilson, a GOP consultant in Florida, told the LA Times, "He just seems willfully destructive and willfully sort of sadistic about other Republicans. Finally, people are like, 'No more. We're done. We're not playing this game anymore.' "
Mr. Trump is still playing the game, however. At a rally in Daytona Beach, he reviewed several of his biggest controversies -- from his spat with Fox News personality Megyn Kelly to his sick parody of a disabled journalist -- almost as if they were greatest hits list. He seems a bit bewildered that so many people have taken offense. What could possibly be wrong with dissing a Gold Star Mother or telling a mom with a crying baby to get out of his sight? His people love it and, though journalists and pollsters say his unrepentant, unleashed behavior is hurting him, it is not entirely clear that is true.
Despite all the outrage and controversy, Mr. Trump is doing no worse in the polls than the past two GOP nominees, Mitt Romney and John McCain. And Mr. Trump has something they did not have: a huge contingent of followers who love what he says, do not care whom he offends and will be with him when it counts on Election Day.
Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David Horsey is a political commentator for the Los Angeles Times. Go tolatimes.com/news/politics/topoftheticket/ to see more of his work.