Like locking the barn door after the horse has been stolen, the Republican establishment is mounting a feeble rebellion against Donald Trump's presidential nomination, which is now nearly certain at the party's July national convention in Cleveland.
Party giants past and present have announced they will boycott the gathering. The most prominent members of the party establishment — the two former presidents named George Bush and failed presidential candidate Jeb Bush — have let it be known they won't be there. Nor will the last two defeated GOP nominees, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Meanwhile, more significantly, the party's current highest officeholder, House Speaker Paul Ryan, who is in line to chair the convention, has sharply declined at this point to endorse Mr. Trump. He has said only he is "not ready to do that at this point" although he "hopes to" and "wants to," to help unify the currently split party.
Mr. Ryan says "the bulk of the burden" of making such an endorsement possible "will have to come from our presumptive nominee." He criticized Mr. Trump's harsh rhetoric as divisive and questioned whether he really is a conservative or even a Republican in the mold of the party's two most esteemed presidents.
"This is the party of Lincoln, of Reagan, of Jack Kemp, and we don't always nominate a Lincoln or a Reagan every four years," Mr. Ryan said, "but we hope that our nominee aspires to be Lincolnesque." (As a disciple of former New York congressman Mr. Kemp, a champion of limited government and low taxes, Mr. Ryan apparently threw him in to emphasize his point.)
The speaker furthermore said Mr. Trump was not "a standard-bearer who bears our standard," adding that "conservatives want to know: Does he share our view and our principles on limited government, the proper role of the executive and adherence to the Constitution?"
Some GOP members of Congress up for re-election in November, including Mr. McCain and New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte have expressed concern that Mr. Trump at the head of the party ticket could hurt their chances to return, a fear shared by Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus. "You can't do well at the bottom of the ticket," he said, "if you don't do well at the top of the ticket."
At the same time, freshman Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska was considering a third-party challenge as a protest to Mr. Trump — a certain kamikaze flight that would not likely have any appreciable impact on the campaign outcome.
Mr. Trump, meanwhile, has begun what appears to be an effort to smooth off his hard rhetorical edges and offer some accommodation on earlier positions, to stroke white male middle-class voters who have been at the heart of his primary victories.
After earlier expressing doubts about the need to raise the federal minimum wage, he said in a CNBC interview: "I know you have to have something you can live on." And he said he is "not necessarily a huge fan of" more tax cuts for the rich.
Mr. Ryan has already offered an ambitious conservative legislative agenda to put before his House GOP caucus after the election. Mr. Trump's answer in response to Mr. Ryan's uncommonly strong public disdain for his nomination was: "I am not ready to support Speaker Ryan's agenda. Perhaps in the future we can meet together and come to an agreement on what is best for the American people."
Mr. Trump's curt dismissal demonstrates his awareness of which of them is holding the high cards right now in their political poker game. He essentially is telling the speaker: "You're holding very low pair, and I've got an ace in the hole."
Similarly, the rest of the Republican establishment seems to have little political firepower left to combat the new outsider takeover of the Grand Old Party as it heads toward a convention and a fall election. The Democrats, meanwhile, are grateful for what they see as their great good fortune, perhaps prematurely.