The Republican establishment is determined to kill the Trump candidacy, and it may succeed. Donald Trump is assisting with the task. The mouth that roars rarely soars, and his unthinking vulgarity is beginning to bore. It’s hard to know what he was thinking when he said women who have abortions should be punished. Surely the consequence of an unwanted pregnancy is punishment enough.
Gaffes and boners and slips that could sink ships make the Wisconsin primary next week ever more crucial. The pollsters, who are often wrong but often right, say Ted Cruz, the last best hope of the Republican establishment, is gaining on The Donald. Late momentum is what produces upsets.
But the elites of the establishment — the elected Republican politicians and their tail of consultants, advisers, strategists and flotsam and jetsam of the endless presidential campaign — won’t have much time to celebrate for surviving with their dignity, civility and general wonderfulness intact. Donald Trump has changed things, and permanently. The peasants have tasted milk and honey, and they like it better than table scraps.
The Trump disease, as the elites regard it, is infectious and is likely to start an epidemic. A young and successful Minnesota businessman is challenging even House Speaker Paul Ryan, the pet rock of the establishment. Just out of the gate, Paul F. Nehlan III — with all those Roman numerals on his name he sounds like he might be the chairman of the house committee at the country club — talks like a thinking man’s Donald Trump.
He mocks Speaker Ryan’s remarks to a pep rally for House interns the other day in the chamber of the Ways and Means Committee as an example of the washingtonspeak that the speaker and his like-minded colleagues have perfected as the capital’s lingua franca. “Mr. Ryan appealed for unity,” he told the interns, “unity in Congress, unity among the public, unity as a nation. We should test theories and ideas, he asserted, rather than impugning motives. … The system works, he explained, only if we have mutual respect for one another.
“The problem is that the Washington class, of which Paul Ryan has become a top-ranking member, hasn’t had any respect for the rest of us for a very long time. Consequently, yes, we have lost faith in our representatives and in our government.”
This is at the core of the Trump message, spoken with considerable less felicity in the language of those in an earlier time who were called “the horny-handed sons of toil.” There’s anger at the embrace of big government, waves of illegal immigration, job-killing international trade on terms dictated from abroad. The Donald’s rivals have said similar things, except for that nice Kasich boy who doesn’t want to hurt the feelings of his bipartisan betters.
Mr. Ryan’s speech to the interns, available on the blog site of American Thinker magazine, is actually unintended mockery of the kumbaya sentiments the establishment class holds so dear. “All of us as leaders can hold ourselves to the highest standards of integrity and decency,” the speaker told them. “Instead of playing to your anxieties, we can appeal to your aspirations. Instead of playing the identity politics of ‘our base’ and ‘their base,’ we unite people around ideas and principles. And instead of being timid, we go bold.”
He is said to have kept a straight face with this attempt at a Churchillian wind-up, because Mr. Ryan knows better than anyone that Republicans don’t do bold. Only former Democrats like Ronald Reagan bring a remembrance of bold to the fray. Once-born Republicans do caution, timidity and retreat. Big talk in November invariably becomes premature compromise in February.
Disappointment and disgust is what’s driving the revolt of the peasants, and compels some, like Paul Nehlan, to make the charge of the Light Brigade. Mr. Nehlan is a businessman, an executive of a Wisconsin company that makes water-filtration systems. He’s also an inventor, which is no doubt what draws him to challenge the inefficiency of something that’s not working the way it should.
His challenge of Mr. Ryan is a challenge of the Washington ruling class, and it’s a message for the smug and self-satisfied who hang out with the ruling class. The well of anger and disgust that Donald Trump, and Mr. Nehlan, are drawing water from is a deep one.
“The things we want [our representatives] to do, Mr. Ryan and his friends in Washington can never seem to find the stomach or backbone to do. Yet they clearly have the political courage to plunge neck-deep into the things we’ve literally begged them not to do. The Ryan establishment is going bold, all right. Boldly off track. Boldly amok. Boldly wrong.”
• Wesley Pruden is editor in chief emeritus of The Times.