Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump answers questions from reporters at the National Federation of Republican Assemblies on Saturday, Aug. 29, 2015, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Every Republican presidential contender is playing Trump’s game. And losing at it.

Politico Magazine

By Matt Latimer
08/30/15 – 08:52 PM EDT

Remember way back to two weeks ago when the Donald Trump candidacy was the best thing to ever happen to Jeb Bush?

The billionaire business mogul would distract the other contenders for the nomination, the Bush team assured pundits all over Washington. Trump is “other people’s problem,” declared Mike Murphy, chief strategist of the pro-Bush Super PAC Right to Rise. The Donald would allow Jeb to just keep on chugging along. Bush would become the safe and responsible brand—the Honda Odyssey of 2016—to which panicked Republicans would eventually flock.

That didn’t last long. A week after boasting that it would ignore Trump, with its usual Clouseau-like finesse, JebWorld decided to hit Trump every day. Which means every GOP candidate is now playing Donald Trump’s game instead of their own—and doing about as well as you’d expect.

The decision to engage him has outsized consequences for the GOP “brand,” whatever that is these days. Not since Joan Collins sauntered onto the set of “Dynasty” or Gary Coleman uttered his first “Whatch talkin’ about, Willis,” has anyone so dominated a universe as Donald Trump has the GOP. Trump single-handedly has moved the GOP to the right on immigration, to the left on free trade and in circles on pretty much everything else. He has the other candidates so confused that they are stepping all over their own messages. After all, how else can one explain Bush’s latest effort to show he is not an establishment loser by going flaunting an endorsement from Eric Cantor, the most notorious establishment loser in history?

Practically every candidate in the race is now engaging in and losing a war of insults, aping Trump’s issue agenda and in some instances pilfering his best lines.

Consider Governor Scott Walker, whose career seems to be vanishing before our very eyes. First, the Wisconsin governor appropriated Trump’s catchphrase “Make America Great Again” (which, by the way, was appropriated from Ronald Reagan). Then Walker tried to out Trump Trump on China with a widely panned call for President Obama to cancel his upcoming visit with Xi Jinping—a move that would not only poison Sino-American relations and make the United States look petulant and weak, but at such a late date that it would be just plain rude.

To read expanded column, click here.