Meditate on the Real Clear Politics polling average above.
There is a Scott Walker bump in orange. He declined, bumped again, then finally fell.
There is the Jeb Bush initial plateau, followed by decline, then bump, then decline again.
There is the Rubio surge in pink, followed by decline, followed by surge, and now trending down again.
There is the Chris Christie bump, then flat line, and now a very gradual increase as Rubio trends down again.
Cruz hovered around four percent, went up to eight, fell back a little, and has been going ever upward along with Trump.
I have seen these pulses before. In 2012, we saw the rise of Perry and the fall of Perry, the rise of Cain and the fall of Cain, the rise of Gingrich and the fall of Gingrich, and the rise of Santorum followed by his fall. In 2008, we saw the rise of Giuliani, then the rise of Fred Thompson, then the rise of Mitt Romney, then the rise of Mike Huckabee, then John McCain got the nomination.
What separates 2008 and 2012 from 2016 is that in those years it was the challengers rising and falling with the fickle whim of outside voters while the Establishment bid its time. Every peak of a candidate was followed by his crashing when voters on the outside, looking for the perfect alternative, gave up at the first sign of trouble and moved on.
In the 2016 campaign cycle so far it has been the exact opposite. The outsiders, with the exception of Carson, have held on to their men. Trump’s voters have stood with him and Cruz’s voters have stood with him. The Establishment has been fickle. They hitched their wagons to Jeb Bush only to flee to Rubio only to flee to Christie, then back to Bush, then back to Rubio, and now to Christie again.
The Establishment just cannot figure out who to rally around and the outsiders have found their men. Cruz is now the second choice of Trump voters too. The outside has consolidated while the inside has not.
This is similar, in that way to what the outsiders experienced in 2008 and 2012, but also to what the insiders experienced in 1980. In that campaign cycle, they threw everything they had at Reagan. They tried to get Ford to run. Then they got Howard Baker and Bob Dole and George H. W. Bush. They divided themselves while the outsiders united around Reagan.
That unity of purpose won out over the divisions as it has every time. The really unusual part about it is how frequently the outsiders are fickle, divided, and flighty. This time it is the inside and if they do not rally to one guy soon, it will be Trump or Cruz they have to contend with as the nominee.
For so long it looked like Rubio, but after this past debate the insiders are giving Chris Christie another look. They better make up their minds fast and, all things being equal, Rubio is the vastly better pick and, quite honestly, may have an easier shot at swing state wins than even Cruz. But if the insiders don’t figure it out soon, the outsiders will get to pick the nominee.