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That vast sigh that swept over the land last weekend was not the latest El Nino manifestation, but the collective realization by the great Republican establishment that at long last it must learn to love Donald Trump.
It will be easier than the alternative, which is endearment for Ted Cruz, who has become after the last debate before Iowa the only other plausible option. You can run with anyone except someone you find incredibly smart but personally detestable. Cruz had that effect not only on his Republican colleagues in the Senate, except Tom Cotton, but on his college roommate, who said you could find a better president than Ted Cruz by picking up any phonebook in the country, turning to any page and putting your finger at random on any name.
But who can hate Donald Trump unless, of course, like with Carly Fiorina, he tells the nation that your face is too hideous for tasteful men to countenance? He is often illogical, always outrageous, maddeningly evasive, impossibly vain and a buffoon as if by plan. But hate him? A playful poke in his ribcage is a more likely impulse.
Unless you begin to think he might actually be president or, if you're a mainstream Republican, the party's nominee. That contemplation brought one of the more amazing columns of our time Tuesday from the New York Times's house intellectual, David Brooks, sometimes known as the thinking man's conservative or, as he imagines himself, the conscience of the Republican Party. Brooks called upon all mainstream Republicans — county committeemen, legislators, members of Congress, billionaire donors, "the Republican governing class" — to unite after the silly Iowa caucuses on the best of the "good" Republicans and stick with that man through the convention in one valiant effort to save the party and the country from Trump or Cruz.
Either Trump or Cruz would deliver the presidency to the Democrats, Brooks wrote, but he thought it even more frightening to imagine one of them as president. Few presidents are so bad that they endanger the country, he said, but either Cruz or Trump would be such a president.
Brooks catalogued the arguments against a Trump nomination, all the reasons that his candidacy seemed so absurd at the start and so certain to collapse once angry, unlettered voters got the facts. The problem is that they seem to have engorged the facts and it made no difference.
• Trump was not so long ago a liberal's liberal, like the lamented Mitt Romney, and at heart he still may be, as Romney himself sort of confessed recently. Trump and Bernie Sanders are the only presidential candidates who have favored a Scandinavian-style government health care system for everyone — Medicare for all, as Sanders calls it. Trump was a passionate advocate of choice for abortions until he contemplated a race for president. He, his family and his business interests lavished hundreds of thousands of dollars on Hillary Clinton's campaigns and the Clinton family foundation, and he called her "a fantastic senator." He advocated the legalization of marijuana and illegal drugs and denounced lawmakers who didn't have the guts to do it. He called for banning assault weapons. But who cares? People change. Occasionally, even while denouncing President Obama for weakness, he evinces an understanding of the Middle East's root problem of sectarianism and, like Sanders and the GOP's Rand Paul, suggests that we should just stay out and let his pal Vladimir Putin police things over there.
• He is a throwback to the racist George Wallace — all those side-by-side quotes and video snippets — and to the dark right-wing authoritarian movements in Eastern and sometimes Western Europe that periodically raise fears and then subside. The weighty tomes making that analogy weren't devoured by Iowa Republicans, but some of the mainstream opponents have delicately made the comparison. "Neo-Nazi" has sometimes sneaked into the dialogue.
• He isn't a real evangelical, like the Republican base in Iowa and much of the South, although he has made some clumsy attempts, like his laughable attempt at citing Scripture at the Bible-thumping Liberty University. A good Christian to Donald Trump is a member of a mainline Protestant church. But a clumsy effort at belonging seems to be good enough.
• His vanity and greed are not good Christian values. Rick Santorum and another candidate or two raise the point, but that is a questionable course in today's Republican Party. Trump has touted his book "Art of the Deal," ghostwritten for him by journalist Tony Schwartz, as the best-selling book of all time, bigger even than the Holy Bible. "Art of the Deal" fulfills the great quest of modern conservatism, which is the search for a superior moral justification for greed, but it isn't even the best-selling book on business. But exaggeration is a human foible.
• He admires Putin and is personally fond of him, and vice versa. That, Brooks thought, ought to make him a nonstarter.
But Brooks misses Donald Trump's secret. He is the world's greatest showman. He is ebullient, confident to the point of pomposity, and we love that in politicians on the rare occasions we get them. He raises our fears and feasts upon them.
The other great showman of modern times was Ronald Reagan. Establishment Republicans were at first horrified at the prospect of his being nominated but grew to love him. He negotiated a treaty to greatly reduce our strategic weaponry with "the evil empire," which he had said could not be trusted; slashed taxes, ran up the largest deficits in history before the crash of 2008 and then spent seven years raising taxes to make up for it; endured the deepest, longest recession since the Great Depression that followed his tax cuts by telling us that it was "morning in America"; and survived a bumbling secret missile giveaway to the nutty, untrustworthy Iranians to become the Republican Party's most sainted figure ever.
Donald Trump has all the makings of another Reagan. The Republican establishment may be coming around, reluctantly, to accepting the rationale. Brooks warned that they were no better than deserting rats.