Like a brush fire kicking up in America’s southwest, the storm brought on by Donald Trump’s political bombast threatens to scorch all it touches as Republicans brace for fallout from their rival’s remarks.
The billionaire tycoon’s caustic, seemingly unrehearsed comments about Mexican immigrants, uttered when he launched his White House campaign in mid-June, sparked immigration debates and triggered questions about the braggadocio of a candidate unafraid to disparage fellow Republicans, and whether it hurts the party’s chances in 2016.
His business interests have taken a hit, with Univision, NBC and retailer Macy’s severing ties with Trump after the mogul saidMexico was sending “rapists” and other criminals into the United States.
But his political profile — fuelled by non-stop media coverage in recent weeks — has risen substantially.
“The Donald,” as he is sometimes nicknamed, has emerged as the number-two contender, behind Jeb Bush, in recent polls by CNN and Fox.
“He’s huge right now,” Gregory Valliere, chief political strategist at the non-partisan Potomac Research Group, told AFP.
“He’ll make more astounding gaffes and eventually self-destruct, but that could take a while.”
The party’s leadership has sought to douse the flames, with Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus calling Trump this week, discussing Trump’s comments about illegal immigration and apparently urging him to tone down the rhetoric.
But Trump has kept at it, doubling down on his message, boasting to NBC News that, “Frankly, if I didn’t bring it up, you wouldn’t even be talking about immigration right now.”
Bush, whose wife is from Mexico, denounced Trump’s views as “way out of the mainstream.” Candidate Rick Perry, a former Texas governor, said he was “offended” by Trump’s remarks.
– ‘Enormous’ danger –
Trump was scheduled to address the controversial issue again Saturday in the border state of Arizona, where his event has been moved to a larger venue due to overwhelming demand, according to his campaign.
But Arizona’s Senator John McCain is shunning Trump and won’t be there. On Friday the 2008 Republican nominee, who in 2013 helped lead ultimately failed efforts at comprehensive immigration reform, dismissed the ongoing debate as a “circus” which “sows division within our country and damages the Republican Party.”
The party led an exhaustive post-mortem on its 2012 election defeat, and concluded that it needed to reach out more to Hispanics, who enjoy increasing clout in presidential elections, if it wanted a shot at reclaiming the White House.
Analysts and observers warn that Trump’s bluster might jeopardize such efforts.
“This has become an area of concern for the Republican Party, even if Trump’s candidacy goes nowhere or he quits,” said Professor Peter Kastor, who chairs the history department at Washington University in St Louis and studies the presidency.
“It doesn’t help the Republican brand.”
Trump has floated the idea of running as a third-party candidate, something that could give Republican strategists nightmares.
The move would recall the challenges of fellow billionaire Ross Perot, who split the Republican vote and helped Bill Clinton win in 1992, and Ralph Nader, who was accused of acting as spoiler in 2000 when George W. Bush narrowly defeated Al Gore.
“Almost every election in the 20th century featured the fear of an out-of-control candidate,” Kastor said. “They’ve never won, but they do have an impact.”
That theory will be tested August 6, when Republicans hold their debut debate.
The Republican field will feature 16 candidates, but Fox News, which broadcasts the debate live, has said only Republicans polling in the top 10 make the stage. If current numbers hold, Trump will be among them.
With a displayed willingness to eviscerate rival candidates, Trump could be an “enormous” danger in debates, Valliere said.
Other participants “risk losing any ability to control where the debate’s going, because everyone is stuck revolving around Donald Trump,” added Kastor. “The other side of this is that ratings soar.”
Despite being one of the most famous people in America, with enviable business acumen and pledges to get tough on nations like China, Trump will not win the nomination, insisted Karlyn Bowman, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.
“He just has too many weaknesses.”
In the end, Bowman added, he could eventually bow out by saying, “‘It’s time for me to go back to concentrating on business.'”
Vietnamese women strive to clear war-era mines
Inching across a field littered with Vietnam war-era bombs, Ngoc leads an all-women demining team clearing unexploded ordnance that has killed tens of thousands of people -- including her uncle.
"He died in an explosion. I was haunted by memories of him," Le Thi Bich Ngoc tells AFP as she oversees the controlled detonation of a cluster bomb found in a sealed-off site in central Quang Tri province.
More than 6.1 million hectares of land in Vietnam remain blanketed by unexploded munitions -- mainly dropped by US bombers -- decades after the war ended in 1975.
At least 40,000 Vietnamese have since died in related accidents. Victims are often farmers who accidentally trigger explosions, people salvaging scrap metal, or children who mistake bomblets for toys.
Chief Justice John Roberts issues New Year’s Eve warning to stand up for democracy
"In our age, when social media can instantly spread rumor and false information on a grand scale, the public's need to understand our government, and the protections it provides, is ever more vital," he wrote. "We should celebrate our strong and independent judiciary, a key source of national unity and stability."
Trump’s next 100 days will dictate whether he can be re-elected or not — here’s why
According to CNN pollster-in-residence Harry Enten, Donald Trump's next 100 days -- which could include an impeachment trial in the Senate -- will hold the key to whether he will remain president in 2020.
As Eten explains in a column for CNN, "His [Trump's] approval rating has been consistently low during his first term. Yet his supporters could always point out that approval ratings before an election year have not historically been correlated with reelection success. But by mid-March of an election year, approval ratings, though, become more predictive. Presidents with low approval ratings in mid-March of an election year tend to lose, while those with strong approval ratings tend to win in blowouts and those with middling approval ratings usually win by small margins."