240DONALD TRUMP’S ART OF THE STEAL: How the real estate magnate took the Republican Party from its old bosses!

There is a reason most presidential candidates stump through diners and living rooms this time of year. They can’t fill a bigger room.

And then there is Donald J. Trump.

On the second day of January, in the Gulf Coast town of Biloxi, Miss., at least 13,000 stood for

A few days earlier, Trump had packed a convention hall in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Two days later, he filled the 8,000-seat Paul Tsongas Center in Lowell, Mass., with people who waited on line in subfreezing cold. The next night, after standing for two hours in single-digit temperatures, locals filled the equivalent of two high school gymnasia on the Vermont–New Hampshire border to catch Trump’s revival show.

Given these crowds, the unprecedented Trump-driven television ratings for GOP debates and his unsinkable run at the top of the national polls–a streak of more than five months and counting–even the most mainstream Republicans are coming to grips with an idea they have resisted since last summer. This could be their nominee. And they are asking themselves, could they stop worrying and, perhaps, learn to love the Donald?

Leading Republicans unhappily find themselves deep in “probing” conversation, asking, “perhaps he wouldn’t be so bad,” says veteran strategist and lobbyist Ed Rogers. True, Trump is a wild card, a flamethrower, a man with no known party loyalties and no coherent political principles, a thrice-married casino mogul and reality-TV star, a narcissist and even a demagogue. On the other hand: Biloxi.


Unless Cruz can continue to rise through the primaries—aided by members of the congressional Freedom Caucus who share his maximal conservatism—or a candidate like Rubio manages to push aside all mainstream rivals to consolidate the anti-Trump vote, the pot-stirring plutocrat may well steamroll through winter into spring with the lion’s share of the delegates. They won’t stop Trump because they can’t stop Trump.

In that case, party insiders may be forced to decide whether to pull every trick in the rule book to keep Trump from the nomination, with all the havoc that would ensue–including a very real chance that the party could split in two. Faced with that prospect, they may decide instead to swallow hard and follow Trump’s glowing blond nimbus into battle this fall. “The pundits don’t understand it,” Marco Rubio told an audience at a recent campaign stop in New Hampshire. “They don’t understand why in this election, why aren’t the things that worked in the past working again? Why is it that the people with the most money, or the most endorsements, or the one that all the experts thought would be in first place–why aren’t they winning?”

Donald Trump will be happy to tell them.