The Republican elites who only weeks ago played a game of "can you top this?" to see who could come up with the meanest put-downs of Donald Trump, are one by one quitting that game. It's time to hedge bets. Nobody any longer promises to retire to Timbuktu if the Donald is the nominee.
On the other side of town, Hillary is reprising her celebrated wriggle, waggle and squirm as the inevitable Democratic nominee, an act introduced in 2008 and requiring more work this year.
Hillary is caught between Bernie Sanders and the sheriff, with falling poll numbers, a bonehead play at least once a week, and growing fear in the ranks of her feminist duchy. All she has left is personal charm and bewitching power. She can't decide whether to worry about a rally by Bernie in Iowa or a perp walk conducted by the FBI.
Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, says he can be the honest broker if the Republican convention in Cleveland goes beyond the first ballot the party rules were supposed to guarantee couldn't happen. He repeats the mantra that a brokered convention isn't likely, but tells Time magazine that he's prepared if that happens.
Some Trump supporters say the Republicans have already rigged the convention but Mr. Priebus, like a good lawyer trained in bloviation to avoid saying anything, retreats to a discussion of the rules drawn up to reassure the elites who are stuck this time with a candidate without a pulse.
"The rules are the rules," he says, confidently. "They're written, they're clear, and they're going to be followed. They're really isn't if someone has a majority of delegates to win the nomination, they're going to be the nominee. The only question is, if that isn't the case, then you're talking floor votes. And I think that's highly unlikely."
That's the nightmare scenario for people who like democracy quiet and well ordered, with the Nice People giving instructions and the rustics standing by, lifting their caps and tugging at their forelocks, eager to say "yes sir," and "no ma'am," and only when spoken to. The last authentically brokered convention was nine decades ago, running for three weeks at Madison Square Garden in New York City, dominating the newspapers with sessions running deep into the night.
After 103 ballots exhausted Democrats concluded they had to switch or find cheaper hotels, and nominated John W. Davis of West Virginia to take the fall to Calvin Coolidge.
The modern convention is a scripted television special over two or three nights, with every 'i' dotted, every 't' crossed, every hair on the head of every consultant individually blow-dried. Every minute of every evening, right down to the seconds allotted for applause, is accounted for. Insofar as there are any media giants still around, most of them avoid the conventions to avoid death by boredom in a strange town.
But this is a campaign like no other, and if it comes down to a race between a crook and a clown, a brokered convention or two would be the fitting prelude to the main event. The hyperventilating among the Republican elites will soon subside because all the mean and surly things to say about the Donald have been said. Michael Gerson, who went from the Bush White House to hyperventilating in in The Washington Post, says if the Republican Party nominates Donald Trump the party would "cease to be." Extinct, like the passenger pigeon.
A former communications chief for the Republican National Committee says a triumphant Trump would be the end of the world, because it would cause "instability throughout the world at a time when the world looks to America for leadership that is serious and sober." But the world has survived without that leadership for seven years, and besides, the end might not be coming soon, after all.
The New York Times, which prints all the news that won't scatter the sheep, thinks it sees "a people's coup" in the works of the Grand Old Party. "At family dinners and New Year's parties," it thunders in squeaky voice, "in conference calls and at private lunches, longtime Republicans are expressing a growing fear that the coming election could be shattering for the party, or reshape it in ways that leave it unrecognizable." Who knew the editorial writers at The New York Times were spending so much time at Republican family dinners, or eavesdropping on Republican conference calls? But they may be on to something.
The peasantry may well be on the way to reshaping the party into something the elites won't recognize, and that's not a bad thing. It's called evolution, and it applies to politicians and monkeys alike.