- - Sunday, April 10, 2016

House Speaker Paul Ryan is attractive, smart and ambitious, which is why Republicans believe him when he says he does not want to be drafted for the presidential nomination in Cleveland. His emphatic disavowal is just short of “a Sherman,” William Tecumseh Sherman’s famous spike in presidential speculation in 1884: “If nominated I will not run, if elected I will not serve.” Politicians don’t talk that way now, but Mr. Ryan’s disclaimer sounds almost as iron-clad.

Paul Ryan is as ambitious as anyone else in Washington, indeed more than most, but he knows that if he were to parachute into Cleveland to emerge as the Republican insiders’ nominee he would be far more likely to end his promising career, blowing the party spectacularly apart, than elected president of the United States.

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, an early dropout from this year ‘s parade of wannabes and who is wrong as often as he is right, nailed it this week when he told reporters that if Mr. Ryan or “someone like him” is nominated in Cleveland, this ignores the sacrifice of 16 men and one woman who spent a year on the campaign slog. Only two will reach Cleveland bruised, bloody but with a pulse. The bitter scramble leaves the party old but no longer very grand. Mr. Graham has concluded that even though he truly dislikes his Senate colleague from Texas, he likes Donald Trump less, and will, grudging or not, work for Ted Cruz. He understands that the primaries and the convention are only skirmishes to the real war. That’s more than certain other Republicans understand, ranting and railing on how they will “never” vote for either of the only two men who will arrive in Cleveland with an actual chance for the nomination.

Mr. Graham is often given to dramatic overstatement, but this time he’s on the mark. He wants Republicans to come out of Cleveland with a party that can wage a winning campaign against Hillary Clinton. The losers, the disappointed and the frustrated can live to fight another day. Only a foolhardy establishment content to nominate another graceful loser would scorn the wishes of the party’s grass roots. That could only be the mistake of men and women working in their in their own interests, with concern for neither party or country.

If the Donald gets to Cleveland well short of the 1,237 delegates he needs to win on the first ballot, it may be possible to snatch the nomination from him, or from Mr. Cruz, and award it to someone else. The voices for the establishment sometimes recall that Abraham Lincoln got to the convention in 1860 without a majority, and things worked out for him. But that was a rowdier time — the Illinois Central, the railroad for whom Lincoln was the lawyer, wouldn’t let anyone supporting other candidates even ride their trains to Chicago, and the few brave naysayers who managed to get aboard, anyway, were thrown off to nurse their bruises at the side of the tracks. What worked 150 years ago won’t work now. The “process” is more open now, and many are watching. It’s harder now to throw people off trains. Both Messrs. Graham and Ryan get it that if the party validates the fears of Messrs. Trump and Cruze, it invites disaster in November.

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