The low groans and shrill yelps coming from the Republican establishment and editorial pages around the country suggest that Donald Trump is a train wreck that will continue to run amok right through to the Republican nomination before slamming into the wall of a Hillary Clinton rout, leaving the Republican Party splattered by the side of the track.
But perhaps Donald Trump has saved the Republican Party from its potentially slow and steady decline into that same abyss.
Back at the outset of 2015, political punditry seemed so simple. Hillary Clinton would march uncontested to the Democratic nomination. The Republicans, as has been their proud and recently losing tradition, would respond by anointing some ole-white-guy, a la McCain or Romney (think Bush, Kasich, Walker). With 5% unemployment and no boots-on-the-ground war, demographics would cast the deciding vote. The Democratic coalition -- old, young, women, blacks, Hispanics, Jews, and gays -- would beat Republican white men 52-48%, finally dooming the Republican Party as a competitive force in nationwide politics.
Given the determinative role of demographics, the Republicans back then had only two potentially competitive options. The best shot would have been New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, an unknown of even less known ability, who probably could have kept the Republican base (where else could they go?) while peeling off enough women, youth and Hispanics from the Democratic family to upset the usual 52-48% demographic imbalance. The second best option would have been the young Hispanic Senator from Florida named Rubio, who while not likely reducing the Republican disadvantage with women, would still hold the Republican stalwarts and might attract youth and Latinos to the white male mix.
The solace for the plodding Clinton back then was that the Republican machine and skewed primary system could not possibly find its way to either of the two counter-image newcomers. Martinez would never have the stomach to run and Rubio would get certainly get lost in the land of Marcus Welbys and Andy Griffiths.
And then along came Donald. With a series of WWE body slams, Trump knocked the sluggish white men one-by-one out of the ring. Huckabee and Perry ... really? Walker and Paul, who let you guys onto my stage? Chris, you never should have closed the bridge. Jeb you momma's boy, time to run home. John, Ohio is a bit too far to keep crawling.
Not only did Trump clear the field of any Republican who would carry the McCain-Romney demographic nightmare legacy, but, in so doing, he achieved the unimaginable: he turned the first-term Cuban Senator Rubio into a Republican establishment darling. A standard-bearer.
Though Rubio may not exactly be the image of "The Grand Old Party," desperate times call for expanded imaginations. Trump has made Rubio simultaneously liberal enough for Rockefeller Republicans and conservative enough for born-agains. Potential financial disclosure improprieties, rumored sweet-heart deals for family members, or ethical conflicts in the State Senate, those can easily be covered with some make-up. No need to take curtain measurements at the Biden's Naval Observatory bedroom; please bring your lift shoes straight to 1600 Pennsylvania.
Of course, Rubio may be a loss in The Sunshine State away from polishing off that VP resume and hoping again to become the on deck batter. Trump may keep tossing Republicans from the ring even as Karl Rove demands to know who is responsible while (RNC Chair) Reince Priebus crosses his arms in front of him pointing in opposite directions.
And Trump may then lead the Republican Party to a trouncing even at the hands of an emailgate-burdened Clinton, with more than 80% of Hispanics, blacks, gays, Jews and women -- the Trump-offended -- staying within and even sliding anew into the Democratic family. Trump may take the Republican Party through a roller-coaster ride to the same destination to which Jeb Bush might have steadily and demographically led them.
But if in fact Rubio rallies as the new establishment hero and captures the Republican nomination, then a real race for the White House will begin. Choosing between a Latino young up-and-comer and a seemingly tired old school Dem talking about glass ceilings instead of gig economics, the Democratic coalition may become a family splintering at its seams. And if too little time is left now before 2016, having been forced upon the establishment, Rubio may expand the Republican Party into the Democratic demographics for the next time around. If so, Rubio, Rove and Priebus will have one person to thank for the path finally around the demographic nightmare and onto victory lane.