Here is a question to ponder seriously:
When poll numbers become available that reflect reactions to Donald Trump's comments about John McCain over the weekend, what will it mean if Trump is relatively undamaged and remains the frontrunner?
It's not a ridiculous question.
In a crowded field of Republican presidential hopefuls, Trump leads the pack today with a measly 17%. This big field lets that happen.
Republican strategist and longtime-ugliness enabler Frank Luntz, who interviewed Trump at the Ames event Saturday, told CBS this morning that Trump appeals to a "segment of American society," he "says what a lot of people are thinking."
One of those things Luntz said is true. The other is not. Both are important.
Trump does appeal to a segment of American society, but that's not "a lot of people." Not even close. Trump appeals to about 17% of the Republican primary electorate. Going by 2012 numbers. Donald Trump appeals to approximately 3,400,000 registered voters.
If we go out to the level of the whole electorate and, again, go by 2012 numbers, Donald Trump appeals to a whopping 2.7% of American voters. Wow.
But none of that matters, especially at this early point.
The question is not whether Donald Trump is a fringe candidate. He is a fringe candidate, by the numbers. And, by the numbers, so are the rest of the Republican candidates. There isn't a non-fringe candidate in the Republican field today.
The more important question is how much damage that "segment of American society" do? How ugly will a committed fringe permit Donald Trump to make this campaign cycle?
And, the answer is that, if they stick together, they can do a lot of damage.
They probably will stick together, too. It's not difficult to imagine that Trump appeals mostly to the committed crazies who fall for all the birther nonsense and death panel scare tactics, people who believe that most Mexican immigrants are "rapists." This is the worst, ugliest, most un-American segment of the American electorate. This is the place where we find Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Rep. Louie Gohmert. This is the place where we once found Sen. Joe McCarthy, Gov. George Wallace, and Richard Milhous Nixon.
This is the most virulent strain of vileness in American politics, and it has a long history. It is stubbornly difficult to exterminate, and it has had a terrifically successful run during the presidency of Barack Obama.
There is not much reason to think that the crazies will back down now that their standard-bearer has doubled-down. They're feeling powerful.
No doubt about it, this is terrible for the Republican Party. But the Republicans will not nominate Donald Trump. Even if Trump wins every caucus and primary (he will not win every caucus and primary), no Republican convention would nominate him.
Trump will have to step aside at some point. And, at that point, he almost certainly will launch his independent bid for the presidency, taking the 3,400,000 crazies with him.
That probably won't be good news for the Republicans, either.
But it might be healthy for American politics, finally, to isolate this cancerous growth. All the better to starve it off.