They are seething, frustrated, and furious – and tired of people disrespecting them. Yes, conservative pundits are an angry lot these strange days of 2016. And boy do they have some advice for Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. Drop your gloves. Or your bat. Sprint to the pitcher’s mound. And start swinging. And don’t stop still he’s on his knees.

And the pundits don’t mean swinging at each other – that’s what’s got them so frustrated. They mean swinging hard at you-know-who. They mean the fear that attacks on The Donald boomerang back and sink the attacker, has to be abandoned at this crucial stage of the nomination. Come senators, PACS, and pundits all, the times have a changed and we will take Trump down.

Are they right? Is the only way to defeat Donald Trump to take him on on his own terms? Or is this the desperate last throes of the establishment kicking and lashing out at everyone who does not buy their orthodoxy of what conservatism means in 2016 and what voters (should) want?

There are at least two other scenarios aside from this binary hit-him-and-win vs. hit-him-and-he-sinks-you options. Let Trump win the nomination and reel him in bit by bit by convincing him how vital the RNC and the Republican Party are to his electoral success as Reince Priebus has suggested. Some may buy this, others laugh. But it is not an impossible outcome, although it’s also possible that Trump reels the RNC in, or what’s left of it after the convention.

Another possible outcome is that it doesn’t matter whether you attack Trump. He loves hitting back if you do, and he’ll win whether you attack him, or whether you play the waiting game. As in waiting for Carson, Kasich, and either Marco or Ted, to quit. If Ted Cruz supporters are just as likely to go to Trump as to Rubio, this strategy may reward patience with resounding failure in Rubio’s case; and he’s tanking vs Trump in his home state by the way.

So we have a punditry furious that after 8 years of Obama’s administration, the chance to right the nation’s course according to fiscal conservatism, (fairly) hawkish foreign policy, and open trade is being sucked away from them by someone they simply don’t like. And even if they did, anyone as unexpectedly successful as Trump has been is bound to draw hostility.

So in the Texas CNN debate, Cruz and Rubio will have to decide whether they will take up the gauntlet that the punditry has angrily tossed at their feet in the hopes they will unsheathe their rhetoric and go for the throat, and elsewhere, against Trump. There will be countless commentators waiting for the smell of blood on that stage, and glad to play forensics in the days to follow. And then the voters will speak.

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