It appears, following the "CNBC debate", that the Republican field is beginning to winnow.
Jeb Bush might have plenty of cash, but he has failed to make traction with any significant voter base. John Kasich, too, while rightfully hailed as the accomplished governor of a state without which a Republican cannot win, comes across as a pissed off candidate who cannot fathom his lack of standing in the polls. Carly Fiorina, I'm afraid, has enjoyed her fifteen seconds, Mike Huckabee has not had the impact he had momentarily four years ago.
Essentially, Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and, just on the margins, Chris Christie are left standing. Rubio is emerging as the obvious fallback for those wishing to insulate the Establishment. It is reported he will receive the backing of several, very high profile bundlers/contributors which will earn him the target of "insider". He will be excoriated as a Member of the Gang of Eight, attacked for favoring amnesty for illegals (which his big money donors favor), missing important Senate votes, you name it. The Outsiders will tar him as an Untouchable - controlled by the Big Donors of the establishment, no better in essence than Hillary.
I believe the fire in the Republican primary electorate is so intense (not in the sense that the flames are visible and consuming, but like the heart of big 'ol bbq pit) that Rubio will not prevail, despite the big money and the media support that is beginning to coalesce behind him. Jennifer Rubin, one of the Washington Post's "republican" columnists, wrote a highly personal attack piece on Ted Cruz today, clearly intended to bust a hole in his post-debate favorability rise. The objective in attacking Cruz is to favor another.
Donald Trump can stick around literally as long as he wants to. He neither lacks the funding nor need ever worry about falling out of favor with the media, regardless of his future performance in debates or polls. Trump did force CNBC to cut the most recent debate from three hours to two, despite John Harwood's ludicrous claim to the contrary. And it is foolish for anyone to think that commercials for a Republican primary debate on a highly marginalized cable network could command $250,000 for 30 seconds without Trump. That puts him in a very powerful position which will insulate him from poll fluctuations.
The longer Trump stays in the race, the more it potentially helps Carson and Cruz. One could argue that the huge ratings for these debates (and don't kid yourself: the ratings have been astronomical. The next debate on Fox Business, another marginal cable network ratings-wise, will hit another ratings record, particularly because it comes on the heels of the controversial CNBC performance, and because Neil Cavuto and Maria Bartiromo are perceived as less partisan.) provide Carson and Cruz with audiences magnitudes of size larger than anything they might see without Trump's presence.
[Parenthetically, these debates will stand in stark contrast to the next Democratic "debate". Hillary and Bernie will be questioned by that paradigm of impartiality, Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, the most marginal of cable networks. Is it conceivable the spots on that debate may command rates south of $250k?]
Instead of wondering, as we did months ago, how long it would be before Trump either lost interest or support, we're now faced with wondering whether he may actually emerge as the nominee. Will voters, regardless of their anger toward establishment figures, actually entrust the presidency to Donald Trump or Ben Carson who, while smart and successful, have no parliamentary experience whatever? Or will the prevailing wisdom be "how much worse could it possibly get"?