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Get real, GOP! Trump is still your best chance to win

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gives two thumbs up to the crowd during the evening session on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gives two thumbs up to the crowd during the evening session on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.

Boy, it's been a bad week for the Donald Trump campaign.

First, Hillary Clinton got a nice bump in the polls from the Democratic convention.

Second, Trump took the bait and personally responded repeatedly to the attacks launched against him by the parents of a Muslim-American hero soldier killed in the Iraq war.

Third, big name Republican defections have started to pick up, with former GOP California gubernatorial candidate and current HP CEO Meg Whitman being thelatest to endorse Hillary Clinton.

Now there's even talk of renewed efforts to get Trump to drop out of the race.

The truth is, nearly all of these problems are of Trump's own making, as he continues to slaughter sacred cows with controversial, inaccurate, and just plain erroneous statements.

Yep, it's a big mess — one that will likely be reflected in the polls in the coming days.

But here's the thing: Despite all the missteps and unnecessary controversies, despite the myriad ways this candidate has sent shivers down the spines of so many voters, Trump remains the Republican's best (and only, at this point) chance to win the White House. Because Trump knows something the GOP establishment doesn't: The Republican brand on the national stage is dead.

And contrary to what you're hearing in the rest of the news media, Trump isn't killing the GOP brand, it was dead long before he walked into the room and entered the presidential election 14 months ago. The reason is simple: The traditional Republican message is no longer persuasive on a national level. And without a persuasive set of core messages, the established party leaders cannot groom or attract a winning candidate from in or outside its ranks who can persuade the public effectively.


"The hard truth is that, for Republicans who want to win the White House and for all the voters who say they really want change in Washington at all costs, Trump is still their best chance."

The reasons have everything to do with how much the public has changed over the past decade or so and how much most of the news media has remained the same.

With the economic collapse and the perception of a failed war in Iraq, what the GOP doesn't seem to get is that even eight years later, its national viability is weaker than it's ever been since the Republicans shouldered the blame for the Great Depression.

And Congressional Republican leaders, election pundits, and regular Republican voters, who still think they would be polling and faring better with any one of the other GOP candidates from the primaries or even one who sat the primaries out, are not only ignoring the overwhelming results from the primaries, but they're ignoring the realities of every election since 1992. Yes, the Republicans have won two presidential elections since then. But those wins were in spite of their less persuasive national message, not because of them. George W. Bush won in 2000, even while losing the popular vote, mostly because opponent Al Gore didn't connect personally with voters. He won again in 2004 mostly on the back of the incumbency advantage at the height of the war on terror. Trump knows, and has known all along, that no Republican can win unless he or she sweeps away the carcass of the national Republican Party first. No one can deny he's doing that, he's just doing it in a more clumsy and damaging way than necessary.

No Republican, be it a man, woman, white, black, Latino or Asian, can successfully base their campaign on the enduring GOP pillars of tax cuts, strong defense, and protecting personal liberty anymore. As much as conservatives like me hold fast to these ideals, and as much as they are effective messages in congressional and statewide elections, the national electorate is less and less interested. The socialist ideological takeover of the Democratic Party and the surprising success of the Bernie Sanders campaign should have made that abundantly clear by now. Yes, the voters want change. But changing back to the party and the policies that held power just eight years ago is not enough change for them.

So, an outsider to shake up the Republican brand was needed, and Trump was the only one willing to get into the fray. Trump seized on this right away by giving up on the lost cause of winning over the news media. He focused on a new set of issues, beginning with illegal immigration, an issue the GOP leadership had basically abandoned and passed on to right wing talk radio. He then pivoted to trade deals and outsourcing, an issue both parties had abandoned in favor of big corporate donors. And finally he took up the mantle of quasi-nativist nationalism, an issue all the demographic experts warned the Republicans had to ditch at all costs. Controversies aside, these positions helped Trump successfully brand himself as something other than the kind of Republican who had been running and losing national elections for years. The anti-Republican news media didn't go for it but so many primary voters did that the GOP presidential nomination contest was over early.

But don't think for a minute that anyone, even an extremely popular and "acceptable" candidate, would be able to get this done neatly and quietly. We know this from history. That blame for the Depression cost the GOP five crushing presidential election defeats in a row from 1932 to 1948. By 1952, the need for a non-Republican outsider to change that was clear and the GOP got that in the unimpeachable General Dwight Eisenhower. That's well documented in history. But what isn't as well remembered is that there was still significant resistance to Ike from the loser GOP establishment, led by Senator Robert Taft, who bristled at the outsider takeover and also resented being passed over for the presidential nomination himself. Of course, Taft and his cronies were delusional if they thought they could have won the '52 election without Ike. It got ugly in the backrooms of the Senate until Taft finally gave up when Eisenhower made it clear he'd be fine running as a Democrat if need be. The GOP establishment almost went down the same foolish road a generation later when it tried to dump perceived outsider Ronald Reagan in March of 1980 by sending out feelers to former President Gerald Ford, of all people!

Donald Trump is a far, far cry from a pristine outsider like Dwight Eisenhower or the dignified Ronald Reagan. Trump's character and record were much more suspect even before he got into politics. But nobody can deny Trump is not from that loser Republican brand. What people are having a tough time realizing is that, as bad as Trump is faring right now, he's still better than any of the other GOP options.

Ignoring this is delusional behavior for all of the Republicans abandoning Trump right now and it's intellectually dishonest behavior from the supposedly objective experts in the media who were never going to support anyone but Clinton in the general election anyway.

The hard truth is that, for Republicans who want to win the White House and for all the voters who say they really want change in Washington at all costs, Trump is still their best chance.


Commentary by Jake Novak, supervising producer of "Power Lunch." Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.

For more insight from CNBC contributors, follow @CNBCopinion on Twitter.