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, boners and slips that would sink ships make the Wisconsin primary next week ever more crucial. The pollsters, who are sometimes wrong but usually 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, flotsam and jetsam of the endless presidential campaign – won’t have much time to celebrate 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 the phenomenon, 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. Nehlen III – with all those Roman numerals he sounds like 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 said of his speech to the interns, “unity in Congress, unity among the public, unity as a nation. He said ‘we test theories and ideas, rather than impugn motives’ . . . The system works . . . ‘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 the core of the Trump message, spoken with considerably 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 bigger and bigger 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 anyone.
Mr. Ryan’s speech to the interns 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 the interns. “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 the speaker knows better than anyone that Republicans don’t do bold. Only former Democrats like Ronald Reagan bring a remembrance of bold to the Republicans. 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. Nehlen is a businessman, an executive of a Wisconsin company that makes water-filtration systems. He’s also an inventor, which is what draws him to challenge the inefficiency of something that’s not working the way it should.
His challenge to Mr. Ryan is a challenge to the Washington ruling class, and a message to the smug and self-satisfied who hang out with the ruling class. The well of anger and disgust that Donald Trump and Mr. Nehlen are drawing water from runs deep.
“The things we want [our representatives] to do,” he says, “is something Paul 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.”