"New York. My City."--Donald Trump.
Trump is winning. That's undeniable at this point. The debate for most people (especially the Republican party) has become, "Why?" Poor Jeb couldn't figured it out, and always seemed bitter about that on the stage. The initial response (after ignoring him didn't work) by most of the candidates was to emulate Trump, to out "Trump" him. This is where Cruz' "targeting carpet bombing" came from, and his "I don't know if sand can glow in the dark, but we're going to find out" stances came from. Rubio backed Trump's "there's going be a wall" stance by saying "First, we must secure our border, the physical border, with a wall, absolutely."
Since then the candidates have switched to taking a condemning approach, simply saying he's not qualified, but of course they'll support him if he's the nominee. There's been talk by the Republican party elites of a brokered convention, where the party elites would pick the nominee, but that's unlikely. In all likelihood, Trump is going to be the Republican nominee. There's quite a few reasons why he's popular (he plays to bigoted fantasies in a way that no Republican candidate has done before: racism, xenophobia, etc.), and I don't think the Republicans are confused by why those things are working, they know those tactics work because they use them themselves, just not to the extremity that Trump is using them. What they're confused about is why none of their attacks are working. No matter what they say about him, whether it's about Trump University, or the size of his hands (the candidates never go into detail about Donald's racism because they've been guilty of the same crimes, only to a lesser degree) none of it sticks. And I think I know the reason why. It's his "toughness."
That's a huge part of the Trump brand. The take-no-shit attitude that the base he's pandering to love. But it's not simply that he acts tough, it's that he never, ever, let's himself appear weak. On Thursday night's debate it was obvious that both the Fox News moderators, and the other candidates (especially Rubio and Cruz) were going on the offense on Trump. The goal was to weaken Trump, but looking weak goes against the Trump brand. That's why that with every attack someone throws at him, he has an answer, whether it's true or not doesn't matter in a televised political debate, not as far as "winning" is concerned. And if he didn't have a response right away, he'd throw out an insult or an attack of his own. He even goes as far as to deflect attacks about him that happened outside of the debate, as when he assured the American people that his hands are in fact quite large despite Rubio's claim otherwise, and that they needn't worry about the size of his penis, it is in fact huge, and probably terrific. Now, as ridiculous as Trump may seem to someone who cares about facts (and if we're going there, the other Republican candidates only fair slightly better), when you just look at his body language, and his confidence, he appears quite strong. Cruz came off whiny at Thursday's debate, if you were just looking at his tone and the phrases he started his responses with (often with a complaint about Trump, not an attack). Trump also sounded more hopeful this debate, when he wasn't fending off attacks he was talking about being someone who "brings people together," which is probably foreshadowing to the type of candidacy he'll be pivoting to as the general gets closer.
The inspiration for this realization came from an NPR story, where they played a clip of the Apprentice. Trump's about to fire someone, he says, "I didn't like what she was doing, and it was repulsive to me, but worse was the way you took it. I have no choice, and I have to say, that you're fired." This perfectly sums up the Trump brand, and once you know what the corner stone of it is, you can see it everywhere in his candidacy, and you can see that it's working, and at this point, there's probably nothing that can stop it from winning him the nomination.