Everyone keeps asking when Donald Trump is going to go away. Even The Onion has noticed his staying power, noting the number of times the candidate has said or done something that led observers to conclude, "That was the final straw; he's done now." It turns out though that a campaign can survive a lot when its core supporters are racists, people who aren't very smart, and racists who are not very smart. As superlative nonfiction author Mark Bowden, who covered Trump nearly 20 years ago for a magazine piece, says:
Apart from the comical ego, the errors, and the self-serving bluster, what you get from Trump are commonplace ideas pronounced as received wisdom. Begin registering all Muslims in America? Round up the families of suspected terrorists? Ban all Muslims from entering the country? Carpet-bomb ISIS-held territories in Iraq (killing the 98-plus percent of civilians who are, in effect, being held hostage there by the terror group and turning a war against a tiny fraction of the world’s Muslims into a global religious crusade)? Using nuclear weapons? The ideas that pop into his head are the same ones that occur to any teenager angry about terror attacks. They appeal to anyone who can’t be bothered to think them through—can’t be bothered to ask not just the moral questions but the all-important practical one: Will doing this makes things better or worse?
When your bread and butter is people who don't like to think, it's pretty difficult to drive them away by saying poorly thought out, offensive, and stupid things. And here he is, leaving every major poll about a month out from the first real live nominating events.
So when IS he going to go away?
Well. One school of thought has been that his leading position will disappear when actual votes are cast. In other words, people who say right now that they like him or choose him on polls simply because of his name recognition will get serious and choose a "real" candidate when it's time to vote. Another is that eventually he will say something so offensive that his supporters will abandon him for a candidate with a better chance of winning. I think both of these scenarios are improbable.
The most obvious problem, and also the best explanation for why Trump has yet to disappear, is that knocking someone out of first place requires someone else to step into that position. All of the other candidates in this field are so bad, so inept, and so ruthlessly unlikable that none of them can build enough momentum and support to threaten Trump except Carson, whose followers are of the same "What's the point of thinking?" variety. Were there a single good candidate in the field, you wouldn't have 17 candidates in the first place. There's no Mitt Romney this time around, no candidate who is safe, relatively sane, superficially affable, and ready to be handed the keys when it becomes apparent that everyone else in the field is just too insane.
My best guess is that Trump is going to go away once the primaries heat up, but not for the reasons so many people believe right now. This is a man of unprecedented arrogance who has never paid attention to a detail in his life; something tells me that he and his campaign are not going to shine when the time comes for old fashioned, ground level campaigning to begin. I'm guessing that Trump's ground game strategy is something along the lines of "I'm awesome, of course people are gonna come vote for me." The knowledge, ability, and willingness of a campaign led by an arrogant sociopath and made up of complete morons to campaign effectively in anything but the current "talk into the camera" part of the campaign must be lacking. Who is making up the precinct lists in Iowa? Who's in charge of the ground game in New Hampshire? What's the broader strategy for the first wave of primary states after Feb. 1? Has anyone involved in the Trump campaign at any level though of any of this? Certainly he can afford to pay campaign professionals; has he acquired the services of any competent, experienced ones? What are his volunteers doing aside from showing up at the occasional publicity stunt waving signs?
In short, it remains to be seen if Trump can campaign seriously because this is a man who has never taken anything seriously. He is so in love with his self-styled genius that it probably hasn't occurred to him that he does not know how to run a campaign at the nuts-and-bolts level. If his strengths are limited, as they appear to be, to drawing attention to himself in the national media, then the wheels will indeed come off this clown car when the actual ballots begin to be cast. If not, and he proves smart enough to hire people who know what they're doing to run his campaign, then the historic awfulness of this Republican field could enable him to stick around for quite some time and even, if there is a prankster God who loves us, win the nomination. But that's quite an "if". My gut reaction is that neither he nor anyone like-minded has the attention span and intellect necessary to do the long, tedious work of actual campaigning.