Republican operatives, insiders affiliated with no campaign and donors with whom we spoke recently are not pleased about the state of the GOP race.

These Republicans despair that an egocentric bully with no discernible political principles should be leading in opinion polls. They observe that his incoherent mix of authoritarianism, protectionism and cronyism is antithetical to the modern conservative movement, and in tone is 180 degrees from Ronald Reagan. In particular, they are worried that Trump's embrace of "nativism" will doom the party if mimicked by others.

Everyone would be advised to take a deep breath. Check the calendar; it's early.

Already in the Des Moines Register poll, the most reliable Iowa poll available, Trump's lead over neurosurgeon Ben Carson has fallen.

And then re-examine the rest of the field. It's true that many campaigns and candidates have fizzled, or in some cases self-destructed. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has damaged himself by trying to ape Trump, some say fatally. In his must-win state of Iowa, he is down to 8 percent. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and a handful of others have nearly disappeared entirely.

But there are plenty of quality candidates whom one can envision competing for the nomination next year. While the media delight in taking whacks at Jeb Bush, he has only just begun to sharpen his rhetoric. He has the resources to use paid media to tell his own story and change the race's dynamic, provided he avoids bobbles, steers clear of further staff bickering and focuses attacks on areas where others are weak.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who few saw as a real competitor, looks more impressive than many expected. He's run a smart race as the compassionate conservative and shown in debates he can be disciplined.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has both the political skill and broad appeal to make a run once the field narrows. So long as no one competitor wins all the early primaries, he will likely have the resources to compete once the race turns to winner-take-all races.

Carly Fiorina gets high marks from most everyone with whom we spoke. Almost sheepishly, some will admit that many of the male, professional pols are floundering while the one woman excels in earned media and interviews and on the debate stage.

Moreover, a certain shoe has yet to drop: At some point, if Trump doesn't blow up on his own, candidates and super PACs will drop negative ads portraying Trump, accurately, they say, as a liberal Democrat on a slew of issues.

Club for Growth, the fiscal conservative group, put out a White Paper on Trump. It pulled no punches.

"Donald Trump is not a pro-growth conservative," the group asserts. "He has advocated for universal, government-run health care, for a massive new tax, and for the abuse of eminent domain so the government could forcibly buy up your property for a developer to build a shopping center. ...

"In light of Donald Trump's statements and positions, the Club believes he would not govern as president in accord with the pro-growth principles of limited taxation, free trade, less regulation, and lower taxes."

On social issues, Christian conservatives are distressed with Trump. In response to his praising his pro-choice sister as a judge and refusal to commit to defunding Planned Parenthood, Penny Nance of Concerned Women for America tells us that "it would and should be difficult for a candidate to earn our votes if he or she doesn't understand that Planned Parenthood is an anathema to the pro-life community."

She adds, "The issue of abortion is ground zero for us. There is no room for equivocation. We also worry about his ability to choose Supreme Court nominees who are constitutionalists."

Nance is also unsettled by Trump's views on Iran and Israel, a key issue for her 500,000-person group.

At some point, candidates must forcefully make the case against Trump's erratic foreign policy and social views.

This should not be so hard, many presidential veterans say. You gather the data on Trump's problematic views and rhetoric, you use earned media to blast away one issue at a time and you dump rounds of ads to remind voters he's a Democrat at heart and would be a train wreck for the GOP.

But most of all, you need to present an alternative, these voices say. All the GOP needs is one or more candidates to step it up, look like a party leader and sell a conservative reform vision.

Despite all the hand-wringing and many candidates' belly flops, there are several candidates fully capable of doing so.

In a few months, if no one has, anguish will be understandable. For now, savvy campaigns will keep to their game plan, refine their message and work on attracting the overwhelming percentage of Republicans who find Trump a non-starter.

Be the first to know when news happens. Get the latest breaking headlines sent straight to your inbox.

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Commenting is limited to Omaha World-Herald subscribers. To sign up, click here.

If you're already a subscriber and need to activate your access or log in, click here.

Load comments

You must be a full digital subscriber to read this article You must be a digital subscriber to view this article.