Trump's barbed attacks on his fellow Republicans are a challenge. As the debates approach, the best some of the lesser-known contenders can hope could be a headline grabbing dust-up with Trump.
Trump's ability to turn the best-laid plans for orderly debates into chaos is surely a challenge. Orderly debates would have been dull, but that was the point.
Relating to and extending from all of those challenges is the big problem for Priebus, and that is Trump's none-too-subtle hinting that he might mount an independent or third-party campaign in November, 2016. "I'll have to see how I'm being treated by the Republicans," Trump said, in response to a question this week from The Hill newspaper about a third-party run. "Absolutely, if they're not fair, that would be a factor."
Were the tycoon to exit the GOP ranks and take even a portion of the party faithful with him, Priebus would find himself facing a nightmare scenario.
America is a politically divided country. No Republican presidential nominee has won more than 51 percent of the vote since George H.W. Bush in 1988. If measurable numbers of the Republicans (and Republican-leaning independents) who now say they support Trump were to follow him out of the party, that could easily tip the political balance against the GOP in 2016.
Over the past 50 years, four presidents have been elected with a minority of the votes cast in an election where an independent or third-party candidate was a factor: Richard Nixon in 1968, Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996 and George Bush in 2000 -- and Jimmy Carter only got to 50.1 percent in 1976.
Priebus knows those numbers. And he knows how the dynamics would change if Trump were to enter the fall 2016 race as a free agent. In the latest ABC News-Washington Post poll, Democrat Hillary Clinton leads Republican Jeb Bush by six points in a race without Trump; in a race with Trump, Clinton leads by 16 points.
Republicans recognize offending Trump is politically risky. Yet, it is going to become increasingly difficult to treat Trump with kid gloves. His fellow candidates are already calling him out and party leaders -- including Priebus -- could well be forced to do so if the debates blow up.
Ralph Nader, who knows a thing about independent and third-party candidacies, says that "the Republican Party establishment is playing with nitroglycerine" when it tries to manage, minimize or exclude Trump. Why? "Because a jilted Donald Trump as a third-party candidate can blow the presidential race wide open and turn it into a three-way race." And a three-way race that includes Trump would cause the sort of headache that could ruin an RNC chair's whole year.