Why Republicans can't simply dump Donald Trump

Republicans and Democrats alike condemned Donald Trump's suggestion of a temporary ban on Muslim immigration this week, with senior figures in both parties labeling the proposal offensive and out of step with American values. But will the latest controversy stirred up by Trump's remarks topple him from his perch atop the 2016 GOP primary field, as previous controversies have failed to do?

"It may cross a line, but it may not be a big enough line to really matter," "Face the Nation" host John Dickerson told CBSN on Wednesday. "He has a core group of supporters that like Donald Trump in part because he says things that are considered controversial...They see Trump as a conduit through which their anger can be channeled. And so, yes, he may get a fact wrong, or two, now and again, but he speaks to a deeper truth that they believe in."

"So there has been condemnation, but will that be the thing that finally causes the thing that everybody's been waiting for with Donald Trump?" Dickerson asked. "We're not sure."

Who are the Trump voters?

The fact that Trump's voters have stuck with him through a number of controversies presents a big dilemma for the Republican Party, which wants to keep Trump's fans within the fold while preventing the party's brand from being tarred with some of Trump's more inflammatory ideas.

"It's why, even in the criticism now, nobody's saying that they wouldn't support him if he became the nominee. They don't want to lose his voters," Dickerson explained.

"There are a lot of voters out there who may not have thought through the whole 'Ban Muslims' thing," Dickerson continued. "It can perhaps be explained to them why, in the American tradition, we don't define entire groups by the behavior of a few individuals - that this is against the founding principles of the country, that there shouldn't be a religious test."

"When it's explained, they will say, 'Oh that makes sense.' But if that dialogue doesn't happen, and you just start calling Trump a racist, then they think you're calling them a racist. (I'm thinking of this from the perspective of a Republican candidate in the Republican Party.) So they don't want to push away all those voters and look like they're siding with the mainstream media, and the elites, and the liberals."

Trump has only increased the pressure on Republican leaders walking this tightrope by repeatedly teasing the prospect of ditching the GOP and running as an independent in November - a suggestion he raised again on Twitter on Tuesday, when he highlighted a poll showing that 68 percent of his GOP supporters would support him if he ran a third-party bid. (For what it's worth: Suffolk University, which conducted the poll, noted that this question was posed to fewer than 100 voters, giving it a much larger margin of error than the rest of the poll.)

"That's 68 percent of the share of the vote that Trump has got, which is the largest share of any of the candidates running," Dickerson noted.

"It's no accident that Donald Trump tweeted that out yesterday, just as Republican leaders started to condemn what he was saying," added CBS News Congressional Correspondent Nancy Cordes. "It was a reminder: 'Hey, you know, don't do this. We promised: you don't go after me, I don't bolt the party.'"

"It's almost an untenable situation," Cordes continued. "They have to say something, they can't allow him to speak for the party in this way. Otherwise, even if he's not the nominee, they're still going to be tied to a lot of the things that he has proposed."

Extended interview: Donald Trump, December 6

While Trump's GOP rivals have stopped short of saying they wouldn't support him if he wins the nomination, they've offered plenty of criticism of his latest proposal. One notable exception, however, is Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who has said it's not his proposal, but has declined to criticize Trump more robustly.

Cordes suggested there's a careful calculation behind Cruz's ginger approach to Trump.

"It's not like Ted Cruz is afraid of attacking, right? He goes after Marco Rubio all the time. So it's not out of...some kind of hands-off approach. It's because he wants Donald Trump's voters at some point," Cordes explained. "They are evangelicals, they are deeply conservative. These are the people who Ted Cruz believes are rightly his voters. And so if Donald Trump does falter at some point in the future, he wants those voters to come to him. He doesn't want to alienate them....He shares a lot of Donald Trump's views, but he wants to show this group that he's not perhaps as 'unhinged,' as Jeb Bush put it yesterday."

Ultimately, Cordes suggested, the divisions in the GOP could make for a raucous 2016 election - but the result, even if it's messy, could prove instructive for the party in the future.

"There is this belief among some in the Republican Party that the party's problem in the last several elections cycles is that they just haven't nominated someone who was conservative enough. They went to the middle with folks like Mitt Romney or John McCain and that is why they lost," Cordes explained.

She continued, "There are some Republican strategists who say, 'Maybe we need to test this theory and go much further to the right, just to show people that actually we lose even bigger with a candidate like that, because we lose independents entirely; and instead of losing the general election by 3 points, we lose by 7 points or 10 points...At least it will prove to people that, no, if we're going to become a party of the future if we're going to win the presidency again, we're going to need to figure out how to make this a bigger tent.'"