Republican debates featuring Donald Trump are lot like the opening wrestling scene in Rocky III. For those who haven’t seen the movie, heavyweight champion Rocky Balboa, who’s become spoiled, weakened and pampered living in a bubble of fame, allows his handlers to set up a charity match against the “nearly” seven-foot tall, 350-pound wrestler named Thunderlips, played by Hulk Hogan.
Like Trump, Thunderlips isn’t shy about his resume. He is variously known as “the ultimate male” and “the ultimate object of desire.” The preening Thunderlips loves himself more than anything else.
At first, Rocky doesn’t take Thunderlips seriously. Until, that is, he gets a closer look. His corner-men warn Rocky about the potential danger, but he shrugs them off. Now, Rocky can’t win. Not because he’s smaller and weaker—I mean, a few years later he would bring East and West together taking down the steroid-fueled Drago, who was probably as powerful as the wrestler. It’s because Thunderlips doesn’t play by the rules of boxing and these are the rules Rocky understands. There is no new strategy to embrace, no weak spot that can be exploited and no training montage that’s going to change the dynamics.
In tonight’s debate, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz will go after Trump to weaken him. I understand the inclination of Republicans who demand Trump be attacked, but it’s mostly a fruitless endeavor. When Rubio or Jeb jab him with their economic plans and specifics, Thunderlips will lift them up and throw them into crowd. When they jab him by pointing out inconsistencies in his past positions, Thunderlips will pile drive them into the canvass with incoherent bluster. When they go for the knockout with juvenile Trump-like insults and big boats, they’re going look ridiculous. He is “The Mountain of Molten Lust” and they’re Barry Horowitz.
This game has nothing to with TKOs or scoring points. The things you find appalling about him will not be appalling to his fans. He’s unfactcheckable. He’s never going to be embarrassed by hypocrisy or his past positions. The only hope for Republicans is coalescing around a candidate and allowing the 30 percent of primary voters who love Thunderlips to keep loving him. And there is no consensus candidate.
Some of you will doubtlessly point out that in Rocky III, Balboa finally lifts Thunderlips up and barely throws him over the ropes. You’ll remember that Thunderlips is displeased and gets back on the canvass to finish off Balboa. Lucky for Rocky, the scripted match is called a draw. But, as you might know, there are no draws in politics.