How do you solve a problem like The Donald?
Top Republicans are flummoxed by billionaire businessman and entertainer Donald Trump, 69, and are unsure how worried they should be that his frequent offensive comments could taint the GOP brand and damage the party's prospects against Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.
Republican operatives working in the primary campaign fret that Trumpisms, such as calling illegal immigrants from Mexico "rapists," as he did last month when announcing his bid for the Republican nomination, could doom the party with minorities and independents in the 2016 general election.
RELATED: Pataki: Stand up against Trump's comments about immigrants
Many veteran party bigwigs are unconcerned, however, dismissing the New Yorker as a clown whose campaign will be overshadowed by the depth and quality of the GOP's White House field.
Charlie Black, a Washington lobbyist who has advised Republican candidates going back to Ronald Reagan and is officially neutral in the 2016 primary, likened Trump to Pat Buchanan and Ron Paul. He said those two candidates had "outlier" messages and garnered much attention but had no impact on the image of the eventual Republican nominees.
RELATED: Geraldo to Trump: Make up for Mexican 'rapists' remark by fixing NYC subway
"Donald is a sideshow and a distraction right now," Black told the Washington Examiner in an email. "Once the debates start next month and more candidates get more coverage and interest, his prominence in the race will decline. He will end up not getting very many votes, so he will not define the brand. The nominee will do that."
At the moment, that's the consensus among wealthy Republican donors and campaign bundlers.
RELATED: Cable company saves Trump's beauty pageant
GOP financiers, many of whom are based in New York, can tend to worry more than others about party branding, verbal gaffes and other blunders that could wound the eventual nominee.
After Mitt Romney's loss four years ago, attributed in part to his habit of making unintentionally insensitive remarks and his failure to attract minority voters, establishment donors are especially interested in nominating a candidate who can broaden the GOP's appeal.
RELATED: Trump lashes out at 'liberal mainstream media' over immigrant remark
Yet few are worried that Trump will undermine the work the party has done since 2012 to improve its standing among Hispanics and other ethnic minorities. That's due partly to the diversity of candidates vying for the Republican nomination, including Hispanic Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida; retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, an African-American; Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, of Indian descent; a woman, Carly Fiorina; and one Caucasian, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who speaks fluent Spanish.
"With that strong group of candidates on the stage, I think people will feel confident that they have a president in their midst," said Fred Malek, finance chairman for the Republican Governors Association and veteran GOP moneyman. "In some ways, I think the contrast can be helpful to some of our more mainstream candidates."
RELATED: Which polls will determine who makes the first GOP debate?
But if some Republicans are convinced that the debates will minimize Trump and elevate rivals, others worry that the effect will be the exact opposite. Among them are political advisors working for Republican candidates, and veterans of the 2012 campaign.
Trump ranks seventh nationally, with 6 percent, in the RealClearPolitics.com polling average, which would qualify him for a place in the first GOP debate in Cleveland on Aug. 6. Republican consultants preparing for the face-off fear Trump will treat it like one of his reality television shows, spouting outlandish remarks that bring attention to himself but damage the party. Their concern is that such rhetoric would, if said in a nationally televised debate, make voters regard the other candidates as guilty by association.
RELATED: Trump finds a member of Congress to defend his Mexican rapist remarks
"Trump needs to be confronted and we need to disassociate our party from his kind of rhetoric," a veteran of Romney's campaign said.
"I don't think what he said hurts the field yet," added another Republican, working for a 2016 candidate, "but if he is allowed on the debate stage and can perform like the showman he is, he is not a serious candidate; he is a self-promoter. I don't think he cares one lick about party and that makes him dangerous to the process."
RELATED: Trump's troubles far from over as Macy's severs ties
Trump's went out on a limb in extensive comments about illegal Mexican immigrants on June 16 during his extemporaneous announcement that he is running for president. The impact of his remarks were magnified by the fact that he was making them not as a businessman and former TV host but as an official White House contender.
"When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're not sending you. They're not sending you. They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people," Trump said. The Trump campaign did not respond Thursday to a request for comment.
RELATED: Hispanic non-profit chairman: Where were Bush, Rubio, Cruz on Trump Mexican comments?
Romney took a tough line against illegal immigration in the 2012 Republican primary, saying in one televised debate that illegal immigrants should "self-deport" from the U.S. The remarks were treated as highly insensitive by Hispanics and other ethnic minorities. Romney went on to win only 27 percent of Hispanics' votes in the general election, a major factor in his defeat.
Most 2016 GOP rivals talk tough about border security. But with 2012 in mind, they try to avoid incendiary rhetoric. Trump, who does not need to raise money for his campaign, or worry about the future viability of the party, could undermine efforts to create an inclusive image among key voting blocs.
RELATED: Kurtz says NBC's late decision to fire Trump is 'gratuitous grandstanding'
Most GOP contenders decline to comment on Trump's comments. Their advisers also refuse publicly to criticize him. They say that attacking Trump won't shrink his stature or shut him up but will muddy the aggressor and distract him from his campaign message.
Jeb Bush was among the few to criticize Trump publicly, telling a Spanish language journalist upon being asked about his comments that he should just stop. Bush was asked the question in Spanish, and he answered it in Spanish.
RELATED: NBCUniversal dumps Trump
"No estoy de acuerdo con sus palabras. No representan los valores del partido republicano y no representan mis valores. Así que el hombre esta equivocado," he said. Translation: "I do not agree with his remarks. They do not represent the values of the Republican Party and they do not represent my values. The man is wrong."
Disclosure: The author's wife works as an adviser to Scott Walker.