The remaindered class of the Republican presidential field was in survival mode last night in Simi Valley, where seven candidates took the stage at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library to make their case, however weakly, against Donald Trump. They were visibly feral from the start, thirsty for airtime, stomping all over each other for a breakout moment, or a fight, whichever presented itself first.
The polling, after all, is overwhelming: Trump has extended his lead over his rivals by more than 40 points, a fact that nobody on stage appeared ready to grapple with. Toward the end of the night, as the lead-up to an eye-rolling question about which rival they’d “vote off the island,” Fox News moderator Dana Perino expressed their dilemma in stark terms: “It’s now obvious that if you all stay in the race, former president Donald Trump wins the nomination,” she said. “None of you have indicated that you’re dropping out.”
DeSantis attempted to push back, offering that “Polls don’t elect presidents, voters elect presidents.” But in many ways, Perino’s challenge was the most profound moment of the night. With just over three months until the Iowa caucuses, nobody seems to have a realistic plan to leapfrog Trump, short of the frontrunner landing himself in jail. (Even then, his polling might go up.) For now, the code of omerta is equally strong among G.O.P. consultants and operatives, who are still publicly engaged in the consensual hallucination that another candidate might have a chance.