Trump’s Controversy and Appeal Leave Republican Rivals Little Room to Move
Screen Shot 2015-12-10 at 4.21.16 PMMAGGIE HABERMAN

Thursday, December 10, 2015


Good Thursday morning. Republican candidates continue to be asked to support or criticize Donald. J. Trumplatest statements even as he has again floated the prospect of running as an independent if he was not treated with decorum and respect. As Republicans prepare to debate again next week, the line between angering him and fighting him grows even thinner.

For months, the Republican race for president has been essentially held in suspended animation, with Mr. Trump leading the polls, to various degrees, and the second tier moving up and down by even lesser degrees.

In Washington, where the fear of Mr. Trump is running high among party leadership, there are hopes that efforts to challenge him will become stronger. With the last debate of the year scheduled for Tuesday in Las Vegas, some say taking on Mr. Trump is an urgent task for any candidates who hope to beat him.

“The race is frozen until the next debate, and one of the Republicans must stand up to Donald,” said Scott Reed, the top political adviser to the United States Chamber of Commerce. “They need to go at him for what he is — a thin-skinned nonideological candidate. Someone needs to slay the dragon. Carly did it. She showed it can be done.”
Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett Packard executive, flummoxed Mr. Trump at points in earlier debates. For a time, Mrs. Fiorina was viewed by the Republican donor class as the best foil against a candidate who has confounded their understanding of their own party. But she has been unable to sustain those gains outside the debates.
On Wednesday, a lawyer for outside groups supporting Jeb Bush filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission against Mr. Trump’s campaign, accusing it of receiving illegal in-kind corporate donations from his company, move that represents a new level of aggression.
Yet the chances of someone going aggressively at Mr. Trump on stage still seem questionable at best. Mr. Trump is known to swing, sometimes wildly and painfully, at people who take shots at him. Few people have seemed interested in incurring his wrath, and some candidates are deeply concerned about offending the voters who seem deeply devoted to Mr. Trump. So the outcome of the December debate, in a primary that has been driven almost entirely by these face-offs, could be pivotal, or could merely add to Mr. Trump’s strength.