Trump Debate Flap Throws Republican Party Into Deeper Chaos

As seven Republican presidential contenders squared off here for the final debate before voters begin winnowing the field, Donald Trump presided over his own, separate rally a mile away in front of a packed house of cheering supporters. 

It would be hard to find a more ideal metaphor for the forces tearing asunder the Republican Party. 

For months, Trump has chosen to operate in his own political universe, violating the conventional wisdom that governs presidential campaigns, thumbing his nose at conservative institutions ranging from the Fox News Channel to the National Review and advocating policies at odds with party orthodoxy.

And whether he wins the Iowa caucuses on Monday, Trump’s candidacy promises to continue to upend the established political order as the presidential race intensifies ahead of the Nov. 8 election. Most national opinion polls have him with more than 30 percent of the Republican primary electorate — and those voters are showing little sign of switching to anyone else.

But Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist who is not aligned with any candidate, said Cruz may be too beholden to the conventional ways to win the nomination. 

“What resonates (for voters) is not just Trump’s bravado, it’s that the everyday man thinks he’s fighting for him,” O’Connell said. “Cruz assumes being a conservative means an ideological checklist. For a lot of others in the party, or for some who have left the party, it’s more of a feeling.”

And if Trump loses next Monday in Iowa — he is locked in a close race with Cruz in the state — polls show him with large leads in New Hampshire and South Carolina, the next states to hold nominating contests. 

"This is not something that fits into some nice little tight box. That is the beauty of Trump," O'Connell said. "I think he could be the nominee. And I think he could actually win the presidency."

Read more from James Oliphant at Reuters

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