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Super Tuesday: Will attacks on Trump be too little, too late?

A supporter puts her hand to Donald Trump's face at a rally Trump's Republican rivals would love to be this close (in the polls) to the clear front-runner

The brutal battle for the Republican presidential nomination is getting uglier by the day. But as voters in 11 states go to the polls on Super Tuesday, are the attacks on Donald Trump too little, too late?

It's just a whisper of wind. The barest ripple across glassy calm waters. And it may be just a puff of air signifying nothing before all becomes stillness once more. Or it may grow into something bigger.

For the first time since Donald Trump made his braggadocious entry into the presidential race, there are just these little, teeny-weeny straws that suggest he may be facing headwinds for the first time in what has seemed like an effortless march (well, maybe trample) towards the Republican nomination. Might they cause his massively lacquered mop to move in the breeze?

Now I know full well that I am writing this as the Republican party goes into Super Tuesday with the blond bombshell leading everywhere except Senator Ted Cruz's home state of Texas. And I am equally cognisant that the story is still likely to be the invincible nature of Donald Trump's position on wash-up Wednesday. I also accept fully that the pundit class has made itself ridiculous with its hopeless predictions of Trump's imminent demise over this or that, only to discover that his latest bit of excess has made him even more popular.

At a dirt-track race in Georgia, there was unanimous and uncompromising support for Donald Trump.

So having entered every conceivable caveat to cover my sorry back, why do I say what I do?

Let's make our starting point the last Republican debate last Thursday. Little, sweaty Marco (as he surely will now forever be known after Trump's portrayal of him) went after Trump. And it was effective stuff. Not the insults. They're two a penny. Although I did think that Rubio drawing attention to the fact that maybe his small hands might signify another part of Mr Trump's anatomy being small was - well, almost quite literally below the belt.

No, what was effective was when Senator Rubio went after the detail of Donald Trump's health policy - and Donald Trump kept repeating himself, as if to suggest he was not exactly a master of the detail. Now it was the property mogul whose upper lip was looking rather sweaty.

Then he was hit by Ted Cruz over why he wouldn't publish his personal accounts. He gave an answer that they were in the process of being audited. When things are going well - and they have been for months - an answer like that suffices. But when the tide starts to turn, it doesn't. Donald Trump has been pressed repeatedly to reveal what's in his books. And in the absence of facts, there is speculation: is it that he's not as rich as he claims; is it that he's even richer; why is he being audited - and on and on.

Marco Rubio at a rally Marco Rubio has now chosen to respond to Trump's insults with a series of personal attacks of his own

And once there is one question, it inevitably leads to others: has he kept company with the wrong sorts? Has he used illegal immigrants to build his landmark buildings? Is he a hypocrite, a con man, a fraud?

These are the charges that are being discussed openly among his Republican opponents and by the (admittedly bruised) media pundit class. Then there has been the slightly maladroit handling of his electoral endorsement by a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan. He was lobbed one of the easiest questions you could possibly be asked by the excellent Jake Tapper on CNN on Sunday: would you condemn the former grand wizard of the KKK, David Duke, and the views of white supremacists? Surely the only answer is "yes".

But Mr Trump, famed for his forthrightness, parsed. "I don't know anything about what you're even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists," he said. "So I don't know. I don't know - did he endorse me, or what's going on? Because I know nothing about David Duke; I know nothing about white supremacists."

The Twitter storm over his comments was predictable. And Mr Trump has now blamed a dodgy earpiece, when he was doing a down the line interview, for his answer. Hmm.

Trump holds up a piece of paper with the talking points for his speech Trump is sticking to his message that he's a winner - and displayed his talking points during a rally in Virginia

As I say, all these things might add up to nothing. And I'm waiting for the metaphorical policeman to tell me to "move on, there's nothing to see here".

But in politics, a narrative can change very quickly. What are seen as strengths one week can be perceived as weaknesses a few days later. A trickle can become a flood. That has not happened yet. But the attacks are personal against Donald Trump for the first time. Questions about his business activities are gaining traction. It's not that the questions are new, it's just there seems to be a mood in the media to take them more seriously.

The question is will any of this affect the outcome of the race for the Republican nomination. Almost certainly not. When I travelled around Georgia, the support for him was seemingly rock solid.

Trump at a rally in Virginia Trump does not look like a man under pressure

Which brings us to the Republican Party's nightmare scenario, and it's this. The efforts to dislodge Donald Trump fail; the efforts of Cruz and Rubio are ultimately too little, too late. So Donald Trump does win the nomination. But the questions persist and he is so badly damaged that Hillary Clinton (for it is most likely to be her) destroys him.

And just as I wrote that sentence, I heard my colleague Katty Kay ask a guest on BBC World News America what is the mood in the Republican leadership. "Panic," came the reply. "Total panic."

Alternatively, I may be a lousy weather forecaster and there is no breeze at all.


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