Last night's debate saw Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz try to attack Trump for not being a true conservative. There are two models that suggest this might be an effective tactic, the spatial model, and Grossman & Hopkins' asymmetry model. In my last two posts in the "Trump to Political Science: Drop Dead" series, I elaborated on the failures of these models. The spatial model suggests that voters look for ideologically proximate candidates. If Republican primary voters were conservatives looking for a conservative candidate, they wouldn't support Trump. Grossman & Hopkins suggest that Republican voters seek ideological purity, but Trump is about as impure as candidates get. So, Trump's continued success undercuts both models. Why is he winning anyway? Because he's the winning-est winner who ever won at winning, of course.
If attacking Trump for being a fake conservative is the wrong way to go, what's the right way? If there isn't one, then Trump is unbeatable, and that would be a stretch. So, a few ideas on what might have been more effective:
1) He's a "celebrity." Remember the charge in 2008 that Obama was just a celebrity with no depth? Turn that around on him.
2) He's a lousy businessman. Trump presents himself as an Ayn Rand hero-- a self-made billionaire who achieved through his own greatness. In fact, he inherited gobs of money, and would be even richer if he had just invested his inheritance in a passive S&P index fund. Trump isn't a business prodigy-- he just plays one on tv.
3) Remember the phone call between Trump and Bill Clinton before Trump announced his candidacy? Go full conspiracy theory on this.
Would any of this have worked? I have no idea. Would calling him a RINO (Republican In Name Only) have worked if his opponents had done it more forcefully, earlier in the campaign? I don't know, but it may be too late. If he doesn't stumble next week in some Super Tuesday contests, the odds of anyone beating him drop even lower.