After GOP establishment 'froze' on Trump, Democrats ready battle plans

Columbus, Ohio (CNN)As Donald Trump seems poised for a huge night Tuesday, Democrats see his stunning ascent and controversial, celebrity-driven business empire as a golden opportunity.

"Those bankruptcies screwed a lot of people -- and not just hedge fund yuppies," said a top strategist aligned with a pro-Clinton super PAC. "His idea of 'winning' has involved a lot of bad behavior -- and the victims are exactly the profile of Trump voters: blue-collar whites."
For months, key campaign operatives inside the Republican Party establishment were supremely confident that Trump would implode long before this moment. Instead, the GOP is now facing an existential crisis not seen in more than a generation as much of the party leadership and many of its top figures are in open revolt against Trump's candidacy heading into Super Tuesday.
    The potential liabilities lurking in Trump's background are hardly a secret. The real estate magnate's occasional business failings and colorful personal life have filled the pages of New York tabloids for decades.
    Storing its ammunition for the general election, one pro-Democratic super PAC, Priorities USA, has taken a few jabs at Trump, choosing instead to portray the businessman as a reflection of the Republican Party.
    "Trump is no fluke. Nor is he hijacking the Republican Party or the conservative movement," wrote Priorities USA spokesman Justin Barasky in an email to reporters. "He is, rather, the party's creation, its Frankenstein monster."
    A Trump rival, Marco Rubio, has only recently decided to tap that treasure trove of opposition research. That offensive, however, only began in earnest at last week's Republican debate as Rubio mocked Trump's inheritance and legal troubles facing the real estate academy launched by his the tycoon's vast organization.
    The Democrats' looming business boogeyman assault on Trump is nearly identical to the attack leveled at the last GOP nominee, Mitt Romney, whose financial firm Bain Capital was savaged by pro-Obama super PACs over its practice of downsizing manufacturers for profit.
    Inside the pro-Clinton super PAC-world, the Republican establishment's miscalculation is viewed as a tactical error of epic proportions.
    "Amazing. They just froze," the PAC aligned strategist said, requesting anonymity.
    No candidacy better illustrates GOP's painful lesson, in the minds of several top GOP advisers, than that of Jeb Bush.
    As Trump delighted in pointing out at every one of his rallies, the former Florida governor and his super PAC, Right to Rise USA, both amassed a war chest capable of annihilating any potential rival. But instead of directing that arsenal at Trump, Bush and his allies chose to target fellow establishment figures, especially Rubio.
    "The civilized world raised an army and entrusted it to Right to Rise PAC," said Stuart Stevens, Romney's former campaign manager. "Instead of fighting barbarians, they decided to try and kill everybody who agrees with them. Crazy. Just crazy."
    "The Right to Rise thing is historically bad," he added.
    Stevens, a key figure in Romney's political world, has brutally attacked the GOP front-runner on Twitter.
    "It's becoming obvious that supporting or not supporting (Trump) isn't a political choice. It's a moral choice. The man is evil," he said.
    Trump's campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, brushed off the party's concerns about his candidate.
    "I worry about everything," Lewandowski quipped.
    Rubio's calculated, yet harsh attack on Trump came only hours after Romney challenged the billionaire businessman to release his tax returns. Trump responded with a slew of insults aimed at Romney on Friday, remarking that the former Massachusetts governor had no hopes of winning in 2012 because he "walked like a duck."
    On Monday, Romney tweeted that Trump's inability to disavow white supremacist David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan on CNN's "State of the Union" as disqualifying.
    As for Bush, he was hardly the only candidate to engage in Trump denial.
    Ted Cruz, who has also raised a vast fortune in contributions, studiously avoided contact with the GOP front-runner for much of 2015, hopeful that Trump would self-destruct and releasing his angry anti-establishment electorate in search of safe harbor.
    The famously tough-talking Chris Christie grumbled to reporters time and again that he would not attack Trump, only doing so before dropping out of the race. The New Jersey governor is now arguably Trump's most senior establishment supporter.
    Also underestimated was the anger brewing on the margins of the American economic recovery. Working-class voters who are simply too conservative to support a self-declared democratic socialist like Bernie Sanders are flocking to Trump's message that illegal immigration and bad trade deals are decimating the heartland.
    Trump has dubbed these boisterous followers, who stuff themselves into arenas and auditoriums, the "noisy majority."
    And while they may actually have the energy and enthusiasm to sweep Trump and the Republican Party back into the White House, many in the GOP hierarchy are predicting easy pickings for Democrats and associated super PACs come November.
    A top Republican strategist, who requested anonymity to speak freely, sees the rise of Trump as a logical extension of the tea party movement, which is highly capable of putting conservatives in Congress, but is a turnoff to more moderate, suburban voters in presidential elections.
    "This is the natural consequence of 2009 and 2010," said the strategist. "We co-opted a movement made up largely of the least informed voters. We got significant short-term political gain, but in the process empowered a group that has little interest in reason."
    "We reap what we sow," the strategist said.
    Trump is equally disdainful of his Republican critics. The celebrity magnate, who authored "The Art of the Deal," routinely lambastes GOP leaders in Congress over the recent budget deal with the White House. Trump insists he will broker better agreements as president by simply walking away from the negotiating table when necessary.
    At times, Trump has sought to ease tensions within the Republican Party over his superheated rhetoric on immigration. He often highlights his standing in the polls with Latino voters and praises the Hispanic employees who work at his hotels.
    But senior GOP advisers privately worry the damage is done.
    "The bubble will crash at some point, but I fear we will be tatters by the time it does," one top Republican congressional aide said.