As Donald Trump's behavior on the campaign trail grows ever more outrageous, the time is long overdue for leading Republican establishment figures, past and present, to speak out in unison before their Grand Old Party is irreparably compromised.
Mr. Trump's latest egregious comments and mockery of a New York Times reporter with a physical disability go beyond the pale even for him. He wasn't satisfied with earlier disparaging the looks of rival presidential candidate Carly Fiorina ("Look at that face! Would anyone vote that?").
His latest target is a man with severe malfunction of his arms, which Mr. Trump for good measure appeared to be mimicking. He also mocked the reporter's employer as "rapidly going down the tubes," even as the Times editorial board continues to pummel him for his bullying.
The current Republican National Committee chairman, Reince Priebus of Wisconsin, is an ineffective milquetoast who earlier went hat in hand to Mr. Trump, urging him to tone down his reckless rhetoric. He got a quick brushoff from the self-declared great man. Of the 2016 candidates, only long-shot Ohio Gov. John Kasich has risked undertaking an open Stop Trump ad campaign.
But there is one Republican establishment club that has not been heard from that, if it spoke out as one, might yet start to bring concerned Republicans to their senses. That is the unofficial former presidential nominees' fraternity — the five most recent GOP standard-bearers in the last seven elections from 1988 through 2012: the two President Bushes, Bob Dole, John McCain and Mitt Romney.
The father and the brother of current presidential aspirant Jeb Bush have let their floundering kinsmen carry the ball against Mr. Trump on the stump and in the Republican debates. But in league with Messrs. Dole, McCain and Romney, they might yet have considerable influence in mobilizing more moderate party leaders (admittedly, a vanishing breed) to sound the alarm of growing GOP irrelevance.
Under the seemingly hypnotic spell of Mr. Trump and the more soft-spoken nonpolitician Ben Carson, the party threatens to head over a dangerous cliff of amateurism fueled by anger, hate or just plain dissatisfaction in a divided federal government.
The most recent Republican standard-bearers all had to cope with the emergence of ultraconservative factions unwilling to cooperate with moderates who once saw the imperative of working across party lines. But the schism within the GOP has become even deeper and more dysfunctional, especially now in the Republican-controlled Congress.
The dethroning of House Speaker John Boehner and his replacement with Paul Ryan provided early hope for some return to compromise on Capitol Hill. But even there the firestorm of rebellion against the status quo fanned by Mr. Trump and Dr. Carson threatens to consume the party of Eisenhower and Reagan, though many of the torch-bearers proclaim undying fealty to the latter.
One irony in the phenomenal emergence of Mr. Trump and Dr. Carson is that both of these political outsiders are notoriously uninformed or ill-informed in the area of presidential responsibility in which the Republican Party has historically prided itself. Foreign policy has always been regarded its strong suit.
It took an Eisenhower in 1952 to put the party back in the White House after the long Democratic New Deal/Fair Deal run, and then he ended the Korean War. Thereafter, the GOP claimed as its bywords the mantle of national defense and a military second to none.
Now comes Mr. Trump, thumping his chest and calling for the United States to bomb the expletive out of the Islamic State, while bragging that can handle that other blowhard in Moscow with his own corporate negotiating talents. (Not to mention Dr. Carson, who is trying — and failing — to learn foreign policy on the campaign trail.)
The five most recent Republican presidential nominees, all of whom became knowledgeable about the foreign-policy challenges and responsibilities facing America abroad, should weigh in loudly now on the danger their party confronts in the possibility of handing the country to a know-nothing in the field in which it has long professed to have the best answers.
Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former longtime writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.