Donald Trump's meteoric rise continues to surprise and confound just about everyone, especially the dozen-plus other contenders for the Republican presidential nomination. What's clear is that his blunt, often offensive comments are striking a chord with voters, leading to what appears to be an insurmountable lead in the polls.
It's his latest truth bomb, however, that seems to have pushed both his rivals and many others over an invisible line in the sand. On Monday (Dec. 7), Trump repeatedly supported the idea of a "total and complete" shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until "our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on." (On Tuesday he somewhat clarified the stance, saying it didn't apply to Muslim Americans already in the country or wishing to return after traveling overseas.)
The inflammatory -- and, frankly, legally suspect -- comments drew derision from almost every other candidate on both sides of the presidential race, as well as from Jewish and Muslim leaders and the White House. But after months of denigrating Mexican immigrants, women and the disabled, is this the comment that could finally put a chink in Teflon Don's armor and take him from a double-digit lead over the rest of the GOP field to 2015's most bombastic presidential also-ran?
MTV News asked a group of pundits to weigh in on the question.
The Republican Party Cranked Up An Outrage Machine They Can't Turn Down
"This is all the result of the establishment and the GOP not stepping in sooner, not just against Trump, but also to tamp down divisive commentary against Muslims and the demonizing rhetoric of 'radical Islam' that has made Americans worried and concerned," said Mike Muse, a political commentator and frequent guest on Sway Calloway's "Shade 45" morning show. Muse added that the Republican establishment only has itself to blame for Trump's runaway political train, and that it might be way too late to stop it.
"You saw that in the Paris attacks and then it hit home with the San Bernardino massacre ... Americans are on edge and because of the rhetoric they've [the GOP] created and now Americans have a go-to candidate saying this thing they're fearing and saying he'll do something to stop it, no matter how unconstitutional or impossible it is."
Muse only sees Trump's poll numbers going up and believes that his coronation as the 2016 Republican nominee is "set in stone," adding that the rest of the nation needs to stop waiting for a political fallout to take him down. "They can't stop his momentum at this point and the only way they possibly could is to acknowledge their wrongness," he said.
This Is Just Like Watergate -- Except, So Far, Trump Isn't Going Down Like Nixon
Conservative commentator Doug Wead, who served as special assistant to former president George H.W. Bush and has worked for the presidential campaigns of both Ron and Rand Paul, compared the drip-drip of Trump stories/statements to the string of damaging stories that ultimately did in the presidency of Richard Nixon more than 40 years ago.
"It reached the point where if there was one more [bad story about Nixon] it would be the straw that broke the camel's back, and then there was one more," Wead said. "But [with Trump] the more the media piles on him ... the more his constituency rallies behind him and leans toward him."
The only real danger Wead sees is if Trump continues to suck all the oxygen out of the primary, wins the nomination and then is unable to recover from the months of bad press and denigration in time for the general election against the Democratic nominee.
"He needs to walk close to the edge to get the nomination and then walk it back for the general [election]. Then he can say, 'look at my words, I wanted to suspend the immigration process until we knew what we were doing... [now] I know we can't really do it this way.'"
Trump Can Win The Battle, But He'll Definitely Lose The War
Roger Simon, chief political columnist for Politico, told MTV News that though pundits have been predicting Trump's demise over and over, the latest comments about Muslims feel more serious. They strike "at the heart of what makes America a democracy and tolerant society and also people might - - MIGHT - - be getting tired of Trump's act."
Simon is not afraid to label Trump a "bigot and a racist," albeit one with "guts." The reason he thinks the former "Apprentice" star is still in the presidential race is because Trump refuses to acknowledge the pleas for him to drop out, even as the rest of the field appear afraid to say if they'd support him if he was the nominee.
"He believes the crowds and poll numbers really mean something. He believes they mean the people love him. I think he is wrong about that, but he is going to plow forward," Simon said. Whether or not Trump's plan is even legal, at the very least Simon worried that it could make American a "pariah country."
"We could be banned from the Olympics, tourism could nosedive, trade agreements could be cancelled and other countries dump our bonds rather than finance our debt. We would be treated like South Africa once was treated."
And, as a number of political experts have warned, the style of Islamophobic rhetoric Trump is engaging in is exactly the kind of recruiting tool terror groups like ISIS are looking for to turn people into radical jihadists. Plus, given his stance, Simon wondered, "why would other countries, especially Muslim countries in the Mideast, help us fight ISIS?"
Things are looking pretty solid right now, but Simon said even if Trump can win the nomination, the exploitation of fear and hateful words is not likely to fuel his ultimate victory. "I don't think America, as a whole, is an extreme right country and I believe in a head-to-head fight, Hillary Clinton would beat Trump."