Hillary’s Gift and Britain’s Choice On both sides of the Atlantic, voters weigh risks and opportunities.


Quickly on the presidential race, then to Brexit.

Hillary Clinton has been given a great gift by Donald Trump. She hadn’t been able to explain the purpose or meaning of her candidacy. She tried out various themes and slogans, but nothing ever took or seemed real. Everything came down to I’m Hillary and I deserve it. But now she has it, in only three words: “I’m not Trump.” I may have narcissistic personality disorder, but he’s got it worse and in spades. If I’m corrupt, he’s more corrupt. I have poor judgment? Everything he says is poor judgment. He endangers us!

Not long ago Mr. Trump was a phenomenon the Clinton campaign couldn’t quite grok. When she slammed him on women, her campaign was shocked that he came back harder and rougher. But he’s made himself predictable. His first response to the Orlando attack, while blood is still warm on the floor, is to note that people are congratulating him for being right about radical Islam. Mrs. Clinton knows exactly how to play it from there: calm, saddened, temperate.

Vote LeaveHe has righted her ship, too, by providing her with a new self-understanding. She’s not entitled and endlessly self-aggrandizing; she is on a mission for her country: Keep That Man Out of the White House.

Listless supporters are newly revitalized. They too have a mission. It is no longer “I must pull the lever for a woman even I find untrustworthy and corrupt”; it is “I will work for the one person who can keep an actual mental case out of the White House.”

From the Judge Curiel gaffe, if that’s the word, through Orlando, Mr. Trump has comported himself with the art and deftness of Broderick Crawford in “Born Yesterday.” I wonder if his supporters understand how much he is letting them, and their issues, down.

Washington Republicans have PTSD, Post Trump Stress Disorder. They don’t understand why he doesn’t broaden his reach, move on from what makes his rallies cheer, and start to persuade and reassure others. He needs to show maturity. Instead of reaching out, he’s doubling down. To political professionals this looks like political malpractice. Their new fear is not that Mr. Trump will not change but that he cannot change—doesn’t know how to, doesn’t have any sense of how a mature candidate would act.

Something tells me this story isn’t over—there will be more movement and action at the convention than we expect.

To Brexit. The question of whether Britain will leave the European Union, to be decided next Thursday in a referendum, is a political moment of the first order. It has been sharpened and made tragic by the apparent assassination of a member of Parliament.

My conclusion from four days in London talking to both sides, Leave and Remain, is that in spite of recent polls showing gains for Leave, no one knows what’s going to happen. Everyone has the eye-twitching expectation the voters will deliver a surprise, they just don’t know which one. My anecdote is that a London cabbie told me that for eight days he’s been asking his passengers where they stand: “37 Leave, 18 Remain.” That didn’t make sense—London is assumed to be heavily pro-Remain—but he showed me the yellow notepad on which he kept score.

No one knows what clichés will hold. The old are said to be for Leave because they knew Britain before it joined Europe in 1973, know it can exist without it, and know what was gained—and lost—in joining. The young are said to be pro-Remain because being in the EU is all they’ve ever known, and they like what they’ve known and fear change. So if as a child you screamed for the Beatles you’re the rebel, and if you’re all about Kanye you’re the staid and prudent one.

The Leave forces believe the EU no longer works for Britain, if it ever did, and robs its sovereignty. They argue the EU’s reach and overbearing busybodyness damage both the idea and reality of democracy. There is a famous class element. Leave voters despise a high-handed Brussels elite. Remain forces argue that leaving after 40 years is a costly gamble with unknowable impact. As Matthew Parris argued in the Spectator, Remain is “the unexciting option,” Leave “a mystery door behind which lies a choice between many mystery doors.” If Britain votes Leave, the EU will set the terms of the departure. It is generally assumed the EU will be somewhat punitive, which gives the whole drama the feel of a jailbreak, with a vengeful warden punishing Britain to set an example for the other prisoners. Free advice to the EU: If Britain leaves, grit your teeth and fake graciousness. This would be statesmanlike and project a benign air. Also it would undermine the widespread impression of the EU as bullying, imperious and driven by self-interest.

It is rightly noted that the Remain campaign did a lot wrong, using dodgy claims to frighten voters. When the claims became increasingly hysterical—leaving might lead to war!—and their financial assertions came under scrutiny, they had nothing left. Leave’s numbers have been questioned, too, but they still have something—the argument that Leave is a vote to help and protect the country you love. No one loves a geopolitical landmass called Europe, and no one feels a special loyalty to it. Last week I heard an EU supporter make a sincere reference to the “European heart.” I thought: That’s wrong. There is an Irish heart, a Spanish soul, British guts. People do not emotionally affiliate with a Continentwide bureaucracy, they are loyal to their country. (I’d vote Leave if I were British.) Michael Gove, a member of Parliament who fully emerged as a Conservative leader in the debate, showed he understood this when he offered the testimony of his father, an Aberdeen fisherman who saw his industry almost collapse under EU directives and restrictions.

President Obama’s insertion of himself in the debate was, as they say, worse than a crime, it was a blunder. Visiting London in April, he warned Britain it would suffer in terms of future trade deals with America if it left—it would wind up “in the back of the queue.” Advice is one thing, a threat is another, and Mr. Obama’s was widely resented. That he said “queue” rather than “line” made it look orchestrated, even dictated, by Downing Street. If Remain loses, Prime Minister David Cameron will fall. What struck me this week is wherever Britons stand on Brexit, no one seems to love him.

In America and Europe, with Donald Trump and Brexit, the same issue predominates: immigration. It is mind-boggling that the elites of the West still struggle so haplessly with the idea that their way has failed. The intelligent, sturdy Angela Merkel of Germany—the EU’s staunchest defender, indeed its symbol—last summer made the decision to invite a million refugees to a Europe with no plans or even capacity to handle the influx. This decision gave a special boost to Brexit. If it passes, Britain’s exit may spark the slow—or not so slow—unraveling of the EU.

A Party Divided, and None Too Soon Beltway Republicans will have to come to terms with how they lost Middle America.

This first month of summer I see movement and no-movement.

No movement: Donald Trump. He’s like someone caught in the first act who lurches into a second act—a solid, prepared speech, a subdued interview—then scrambles back to first-act antics. It’s easy to guess he’s surrounded by friends and supporters who know more is needed than popping off about “Crooked Hillary” but are afraid to mess with his swing. They fear taking the tang out of his secret sauce. Another guess: He’s not sure he can pull off a change of style—he’s afraid he’ll be boring if he’s serious, afraid he’ll bore himself if he knows what he’s going to say next. So he continues to rant, not to reassure fence sitters. Hillary Clinton hasn’t entered a second act either, but it’s partly situational: She’s trapped in a primary battle. When it comes to Mr. Trump she tries various attack lines—“divisive,” “dangerous,” “dangerously incoherent”—to see what resonates, as they say. She is plodding, unimaginative, stolid. She wishes she had secret sauce.

Make America yell againCloser to home I see movement. Friends who’d been for John Kasich or Marco Rubio now sunnily and without a headache declare themselves for Mr. Trump. An intellectual friend, previously disapproving, confided she’s for him too. But two friends who had been early, enthusiastic Trump backers now seem to be having doubts: They’ve lost their oomph, talk about him less. Nothing’s set in concrete this year, not that anything was.

A central predicament of 2016 continues. GOP elites and intellectual cadres may be clueless about America right now, but they have an informed and appropriately elevated sense of the demands of the presidency. They fear Mr. Trump’s temperament and depth do not meet its requirements. Trump supporters have a more grounded sense of America and its problems but too low a sense of what the presidency can demand in regard to personal virtues. If this problem is to be resolved, it is Mr. Trump who will resolve it. He shows little interest. This space said in February that his political fortunes would hinge on whether America came to think of him as a good man and a fully stable one. It is still true.

The Beltway intelligentsia of the conservative movement continues to be upset about Mr. Trump’s coming nomination and claim they’d support him but they have to be able to sleep at night. They slept well enough through two unwon wars, the great recession, and the refusal of Republican and Democratic administrations to stop illegal immigration. In a typically evenhanded piece in National Review, Ramesh Ponnuru writes of conservative infighting. Most back Mr. Trump, but others, “especially among conservative writers, activists, and think-tankers,” vow they’ll never vote for him. “This debate splits people who have heretofore been friends with similar views on almost all issues, and who on each side have reasonable arguments to hand. It is therefore being conducted in a spirit of mutual rage, bitterness, and contempt.”

That’s witty and true—I’ve seen it—but the division is also promising. Too much has long been “agreed on.” At some point conservative intellectuals are going to take their energy and start thinking about how we got here. How did a party that stood for regular people become a party that stood for platitudes regular people no longer found even vaguely pertinent? During the Bush administration, did the party intelligentsia muscle critics and silence needed dissent, making the party narrower, more rigid and embittered? What is the new conservatism for this era? How did the party of Main Street become the party of Donors’ Policy Preferences?

An anecdote. Two years ago at a birthday party for a mutual friend, I bumped into a hedge-fund billionaire who turned to me angrily and lashed out over something I’d written that seemed to him insufficiently conservative. I listened, merely blinking with surprise I’m sorry to say, and removed myself from his flight path. Afterward I thought about how he must have come to view himself. He is, as I said, vastly wealthy, but also generous, giving time and money to think tanks, groups, candidates. He must view all this, I thought, as a targeted investment. Maybe he sees himself as having . . . a controlling investment. Maybe he thinks he bought conservatism. I felt in a sharp new way that my criticisms of the donor class had been right. Inevitably they see to their own enthusiasms and policy priorities. This was how the GOP became the party of We Don’t Care What Americans Think About Illegal Immigration. Who do those Americans think they are—they think they own the place?

A great party needs give. It needs a kind of capaciousness and broadness. On that, the best example of movement I’ve seen in some time is what I discovered this week: a sophisticated, rather brilliant and anonymous website that is using this Trumpian moment to break out of the enforced conservative orthodoxy of the past 15 years.

It is called the Journal of American Greatness. Its contributors ask questions that need asking and make critiques that sting.

They describe themselves as “aghast at the stupidity and corruption of American politics, particularly in the Republican Party, and above all in what passes for the ‘conservative’ intellectual movement.” Who are they? “None of your damned business.” Why? “Because the times are so corrupt that simply stating certain truths is enough to make one unemployable for life.”

Where they stand: “We support Trumpism, defined as secure borders, economic nationalism, interests-based foreign policy, and above all judging every government action through a single lens: does this help or harm Americans? For now, the principal vehicle of Trumpism is Trump.”

They explore essential questions. “When—and why—did free trade become a sacred ritual of the Republican right?” They give neoconservatism its intellectual due but explore the “unwisdom” of the “Middle East democracy agenda.” Neoconservatives seem “incapable of learning from their mistakes or changing their minds.” The contributors hilariously score NeverTrumpers who claim to be standing at great cost on principle while others are “in the tank” for Mr. Trump: “Of all the opinions that require little courage to express, opposition to Trump is the lead one.” In the past two decades, they observe, “a new conservative intellectual superstructure,” including magazines, journals and think tanks, was built on the new base of the Republican Party. It “routinized the production of its self-justification.” But “the base no longer wants the superstructure.” Voters have their own ideas of what conservatism is.

I contacted JAG by social media and asked about their work. “If we had to characterize ourselves, we would like to think that our writing is informed by a mix of pragmatic experience and theory. What brings us together is our dismay at the stultification of political ideas in the United States. We see ourselves as challenging the intellectual rigidity that has come to characterize, in our view, so much of what passes for self-described ‘serious thinking’ today.”

Their reach and the reactions they’ve received “have thus far significantly exceeded our expectations.”

It’s encouraging they’re doing what they’re doing, and that there is a market for it.

Clinton Embodies Washington’s Decadence She breaks the rules and gets away with it every time. No wonder voters are fed up.

The most interesting thing Donald Trump has said recently isn’t his taunting of Hillary Clinton, it’s his comment to Bloomberg’s Joshua Green. Mr. Green writes: “Many politicians, Trump told me, had privately confessed to being amazed that his policies, and his lacerating criticism of party leaders, had proved such potent electoral medicine.” Mr. Trump seemed to “intuit,” Mr. Green writes, that standard Republican dogma on entitlements and immigration no longer holds sway with large swaths of the party electorate. Mr. Trump says he sees his supporters as part of “a movement.”

What, Mr. Green asked, would the party look like in five years? “Love the question,” Mr. Trump replied. “Five, 10 years from now—different party. You’re going to have a worker’s party. A party of people that haven’t had a real wage increase in 18 years.”

My impression on reading this was that Mr. Trump is seeing it as a party of regular people, as the Democratic Party was when I was a child and the Republican Party when I was a young woman.

Hillary Clinton campaigningThis is the first thing I’ve seen that suggests Mr. Trump is ideologically conscious of what he’s doing. It’s not just ego and orange hair, he suggests, it’s politically intentional.

It invites many questions. Movements require troops—not only supporters on the ground, but an army of enthusiastic elected officials and activists. Mr. Trump doesn’t have that army. Washington hates what he stands for and detests the idea he represents policy change. GOP elites will have to start thinking about two things: the rock-bottom purpose of the party and the content, in 2016, of a conservatism reflective of and responsive to this moment and the next. This will be necessary whatever happens to Mr. Trump, because big parts of the base are speaking through him. It is no surprise so many D.C. conservatives are hissing, screeching and taking names. They’re in the middle of something epochal that they did not expect. They’re lost.

To another part of the Trump phenomenon that does not involve policy, exactly:

When Mr. Trump went after Mrs. Clinton over her husband’s terrible treatment of women—she was his “unbelievably nasty, mean enabler”—my first thought was: Man, I thought it was supposed to get bloody in October. This is May—where will we wind up? But I was struck that no friend on the left seemed shocked or appalled. A few on the right were delighted, and some unsure. Isn’t this the sort of thing that’s supposed to turn women off and make Hillary look like a victim?

But so far Mr. Trump’s numbers seem to be edging up.

I was surprised that if Mr. Trump was going to go there early, he didn’t focus on a central political depredation of the Clinton wars. That was after Mrs. Clinton learned of the Monica scandal and did not step back, claiming a legitimate veil of personal privacy—after all, it was not she who had been accused of terrible Oval Office behavior—but came forward on “Today” as an aggressor. Knowing her husband’s history, knowing his sickness, having every reason to believe the charges were true, she attacked her husband’s critics, in a particular way: “The great story here . . . is this vast right-wing conspiracy that has been conspiring against my husband since the day he announced for president. . . . Some folks are gonna have a lot to answer for.”

She was speaking this way about conservatives, half or more of the country. At a charged moment she took a personal humiliation and turned it into a political weapon, which further divided the nation, pitching left against right. She did this because her first instinct is always war. If you have to divide the country to protect your position by all means divide the country. It was unprotective of the country, and so unpatriotic.

The lack of backlash against Mr. Trump’s attacks on Mrs. Clinton, though, I suspect is due to something else. It’s that the subject matter really comes down to one word: decadence. People right now will respect a political leader who will name and define what they themselves see as the utter decadence of Washington.

I don’t mean that they watch “Scandal” and “House of Cards” and think those shows are a slightly over-the-top version of reality, though they do. Now and then I meet a young person who, finding I’d worked in a White House, asks, half-humorously and I swear half-curiously, if I ever saw anyone kill a reporter by throwing her under a train. I say I knew people who would have liked to but no, train-station murders weren’t really a thing then. (Someday cultural historians will wonder if the lowered political standards that mark this year were at all connected to our national habit of watching mass entertainment in which our elites are presented as high-functioning psychopaths. Yes, that may have contributed to a certain lowering of real-world standards.)

But the real decadence Americans see when they look at Washington is an utterly decadent system. Just one famous example from the past few years:

A high official in the IRS named Lois Lerner targets those she finds politically hateful. IRS officials are in the White House a lot, which oddly enough finds the same people hateful. News of the IRS targeting is about to break because an inspector general is on the case, so Ms. Lerner plants a question at a conference, answers with a rehearsed lie, tries to pin the scandal on workers in a cubicle farm in Cincinnati, lies some more, gets called into Congress, takes the Fifth—and then retires with full pension and benefits, bonuses intact. Taxpayers will be footing the bill for years for the woman who in some cases targeted them, and blew up the reputation of the IRS.

Why wouldn’t Americans think the system is rigged?

This is Washington in our era: a place not so much of personal as of civic decadence, where the Lois Lerner always gets away with it.

Which brings us to the State Department Office of Inspector General’s report involving Hillary Clinton’s emails. It reveals one big thing: Almost everything she has said publicly about her private server was a lie. She lied brazenly, coolly, as one who is practiced in lying would, as one who always gets away with it could.

No, she was not given legal approval to conduct her business on the server. She was not given the impression it was fine. She did not comply with rules on storage and archiving. Her own office told U.S. diplomats personal email accounts could be compromised and they must avoid using them for official business. She was informed of a dramatic increase in hacking attempts on personal accounts. Professionals who raised concerns about her private server were told not to speak of it again.

It is widely assumed that Mrs. Clinton will pay no price for misbehavior because the Democratic president’s Justice Department is not going to proceed with charges against the likely Democratic presidential nominee.

This is what everyone thinks, and not only because they watch “Scandal.” Because they watch the news.

That is the civic decadence they want to see blown up. And there’s this orange-colored bomb . . .

Clinton-Sanders: Maybe That’s the Ticket It could keep the party together, at least for this year, and deny an opportunity to Trump.

Let’s begin with a prophecy: It is not only the Republican Party that is breaking and perhaps re-forming. The Democratic Party is also starting to come apart. We’re seeing the first signs of it now.

A significant part of the base is going left. Bernie Sanders took off because they want a socialist. The party is going left for a host of reasons: the crash of 2008, economic strain, eight years of President Obama, trends within American culture and education. Hillary Clinton’s struggles this year are connected in part to her ideological unreliability, to the sense that she’s a generation behind ideologically, that she’s got the wrong attitude toward Wall Street and the use of military power. She’s old school; we’re entering something new.

Bernie Sanders & Hillary Clinton

Bernie Sanders & Hillary Clinton

Here’s what I suspect is coming whatever happens this year. Just as a portion of Republicans—nobody knows how big—will break from the GOP over Donald Trump, some percentage of Democrats, especially among the affluent will, in the next cycle, start to peel off from their party over its lurch leftward. They will not be at home in a party of smiley-face socialism that threatens to become actual socialism. They will not want the American economy destroyed. They will not be comfortable in a party that supports the most extreme political correctness; they do not want their 10-year-old daughters using transgendered bathrooms with men. They will find themselves increasingly opposed to the political correctness that has swept the universities. They will have increasing qualms about spending $60,000 a year to have their bright, kind children turned into leftist robots.

So they will start to split off from the Democrats, and they will find the Republicans who split off in 2016, and together, in 2020 or so, they will attempt to create their own party. It will be pro-growth, moderate on social issues, more or less neoconservative in its foreign policy. It will be smallish but well-heeled. It will try to hold together and grow.

That is my prophecy. Everything is in play.

I mentioned the strains, shifts and breakage within the Democratic party that you can see right now. Nothing illustrated it like what happened last Saturday in Las Vegas, when a state Democratic Party convention turned violent, with chairs thrown, fists shaken, curses screamed. Sen. Barbara Boxer, longtime California liberal and Clinton supporter, was heckled and booed. She later said she’d feared for her safety. The state Democratic chairwoman reported threats of bodily harm, including a text message that said: “We know where you live . . . Where your kids go to school/grandkids. We have everything on you.”

It doesn’t get much uglier than that. At issue, procedures surrounding the delegate-selection process and Sanders supporters’ claim that the deck was stacked against them. This was the local expression of a larger national argument over whether the Democratic National Committee and its chairman, Hillary friend Debbie Wasserman Schultz, were, as Donald Trump used to say, rigging the system.

After the Vegas melee Mr. Sanders was relatively unrepentant. He blandly said a few days later that he opposes all forms of violence. He told a California rally that the Democratic Party “can do the right thing and open its doors and welcome into the party people who are prepared to fight for real social and economic change.”

The Democratic divide can be seen in other ways. Dante Chinni of this newspaper took a dive into the demographics of Kentucky, whose primary this week “shows how deep divisions are within the Democratic Party.” A racially diverse segment, “located in cities and their surrounding suburbs, is largely behind Mrs. Clinton, while a less-diverse and largely rural part of the party backs Sen. Sanders.” Mrs. Clinton won narrowly, carrying the most populous counties and most of those with the largest African-American populations, Mr. Sanders the least populous and all the least diverse counties. His voters in Kentucky were rural and white, which was true also in Michigan and New York. “The tensions within the party aren’t likely to lessen,” Mr. Chinni concluded.

California votes June 7. A journalist this week speculated in conversation that if Mrs. Clinton underperforms or even loses there, it could be a gift. It will make her desperate. Presuming she goes on to win the nomination, her desperation might prompt her to make Bernie Sanders her vice presidential nominee.

Why not? It would hold the party together for this cycle. It would help keep Sanders voters, who often threaten to go elsewhere if Mrs. Clinton is the nominee, in the tent. It would also unsettle Trumpworld. They see Bernie supporters as potential Trump supporters in the general election, and Mr. Sanders as having an appeal that overlaps with their own. They see his outsider mystique and his appeal to the young.

Would Mrs. Clinton do it? If it were the only choice, she would. Would he? He hasn’t ruled it out. In early May, Mr. Sanders told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that he was “focused” on winning the nomination, and, if he does not succeed, “we are going to fight as hard as we can” to make the Democratic platform more “progressive.” “Then, after that,” he said, “certainly Secretary Clinton and I can sit down and talk and see where we go from there.”

Maybe he’d hold Mrs. Clinton hostage on the platform before he would agree to be her vice president. Maybe she’d accept a more left-wing platform to get the vice president she thinks she needs.

A Clinton-Sanders ticket would be the oldest presidential ticket in U.S. history, totaling a combined 142 years. You can characterize that as ancient and out of it, or you can see it as mature, experienced. Up against Mr. Trump, the latter might not look so bad.

Mr. Trump too is looking for a vice president. I don’t understand those who say he should get an attack dog, since he is an attack dog. He doesn’t need a dramatic Northeastern governor with a reputation as a bully, he already has a reputation as a bully. Nor do I understand why they say Mr. Trump needs someone exciting. He’s quite exciting enough. He doesn’t require someone who can help him with the ins and outs of Capitol Hill. That would be nice and come in handy, but it’s also the kind of talent he can hire as staff.

What he needs is Stable Man or Stable Woman. He needs someone with real and obvious political accomplishment—a longtime senator or, less attractively, a representative, or a governor, preferably a current one. John Kasich says he isn’t interested, but maybe he will get interested. Newt Gingrich is on the list, which is understandable in many respects, but he has the same slightly mad quotient as Mr. Trump. Mr. Trump needs “He’s not crazy.”

Big ships need ballast to keep the ship upright, to keep it from tipping over when a high wave comes. Ballast is by its nature uninteresting. Mr. Trump needs ballast. He would benefit from a solid, uninteresting running mate.

Uninteresting would come as such a relief this year. It would be like the old days, when people were boring.

Mr. Trump Goes to Washington The voters have rebuked professional Republicans and conservatives. What’s next for the GOP?

What is needed among Republicans in Washington now is patience, soberness of thought, and a kind of heroic fairness. Reflection and humility wouldn’t hurt either.

One of our two great parties is either shattering or reconstituting itself. It is not united and has not been since the George W. Bush era. As the pollster Kellyanne Conway noted this week, if it were, there wouldn’t have been 17 candidates for president, and Donald Trump wouldn’t be the presumptive nominee.

The optimistic thought is that it is reconstituting itself. The past year the base of the party has been kicking away from its elected and established leaders in Washington and, simultaneously, broadening itself, with new members coming in. That suggests a certain dynamism: Maybe something’s busy being born, not busy dying. We’ll see.

Party of TrumpBut almost every conservative and Republican in Washington—in politics, think tanks and journalism—backed a candidate other than Mr. Trump. Every one of those candidates lost, and Mr. Trump won. After November, think tanks and journals will begin holding symposia in which smart people explain How We Lost The Base.

Mr. Trump’s victory was an endorsement of Mr. Trump but also a rebuke to professional Republicans in Washington. It was a rebuke to comprehensive immigration plans that somehow, mysteriously, are never quite intended to stop illegal immigration; a rebuke to the kind of thinking that goes, “I know, we’ll pass laws that leave Americans without work, which means they’ll be deprived of the financial and spiritual benefits of honest labor, then we’ll cut their entitlements, because if we don’t our country will go broke.” The voters backed Mr. Trump’s stands on these issues and more.

A political question for November: Does Mr. Trump pick up more Democrats than he loses Republicans? Is that how he plans to win? Does he draw in enough new or non-Republican voters to make up for the millions of Republican voters he will surely lose?

In an act of determined denial, Washington Republicans and conservatives continue to see and describe Mr. Trump’s nomination as the triumph of a celebrity in a culture that worships celebrity, the victory of a vulgarian in a vulgar age, the living excrescence of our shallow values and lowered standards. Also, he’s tapped into the public’s rage.

He is all of those things. But he is more, and Washington is determined to ignore the more. He understood, either intuitively or after study, that the Republican base was changing or open to change, and would expand if the party changed some policies. He declared those policies changed. And he won.

As to the matter of rage, it’s more like disrespect for those who’ve been calling the shots. If you know Trump people in real life as opposed to through social media, if they are your friends and family members, you understand that “rage” doesn’t do them justice. They dislike the Republican Party, which they believe has consistently betrayed them, but Trump people in person are just about the only cheerful people in politics this year. They actually have hope—the system needs a hard electric shock, he’s just the man to do it, and if it doesn’t work they’ll fire him. They’re having a good time. Here I throw in a moment I had in Manhattan Thursday afternoon. I was standing on a corner on York Avenue in the 60s when a cab screeched across two lanes to stop in front of me. “I am voting for Trump!” the driver yelled through an open window. “You want to know why? He is neither right or left!” He then laughed and sped on. Not all Trump supporters are quiet about it.

But back to the new Republicans—the Democrats and independents who’ve voted for Mr. Trump. As usual with the Republican Party, these new friends were not cheerily invited in—who would ever think of that?—but crashed the party with the guy with the yellow hair. A lot of Washington Republicans seem to have spent the past week wondering what they always wonder: How much should we snub them? How uncomfortable should we make them? Should we not talk to them or just not give them a drink? Way to do outreach, fellas.

It is good that Paul Ryan snapped out of his smug-seeming “I’m just not ready” approach of last week, and met and talked with Mr. Trump this week. When a sitting Republican speaker of the House is cool on or considering rejecting that party’s presumptive presidential nominee, more is needed than “I’m not there yet.”

He has every right not to endorse Mr. Trump, but if he doesn’t, both Mr. Trump and his supporters deserved more. You have to explain at length and with moral and intellectual seriousness and depth in exactly what ways he’s not worthy of your support, and you have to do it in a way that summons a response that is equally thoughtful and temperate.

Not much is known about the meeting at this point. Mr. Ryan told the press afterward that he was “encouraged” by their talk, but still declined to endorse.

In a joint statement issued soon after, Messrs. Ryan and Trump said: “It’s critical that Republicans unite around our shared principles, advance a conservative agenda, and do all we can to win this fall.” They said they were “honest about our few differences” but “there are also many important areas of common ground.” There was a nod to “many millions of new voters,” who showed up for the Republican primaries, “far more than ever before in the Republican Party’s history.”

All of which strikes me as a Trump win. Mr. Ryan referred to his conservatism and suggested Mr. Trump holds political principles.

Mr. Trump should want to bring the party together. He makes sounds that he doesn’t need to, but he does and must know it or he wouldn’t have met with GOP leaders in the first place. A party fracturing all around him will only spread unease, increase tension, and intensify sourness. He needs at least a semblance of calm so he doesn’t look every day like Thor, God of Thunder and Battle.

Those who oppose Mr. Trump should do it seriously and with respect for his supporters. If he is not conservative, make your case and explain what conservatism is. No one at this point needs your snotty potshots or your supposedly withering one-liners. I confess I have lost patience with many of those declaring they cannot in good conscience support him, not because reasons of conscience are not crucial—they are, and if they apply they should be declared. But some making these declarations managed in good conscience, indeed with the highest degree of self-regard, to back the immigration proposals of George W. Bush that contributed so much to the crisis that produced Mr. Trump. They invented Sarah Palin. They managed to support the global attitudes and structures that left the working class jobless. They dreamed up the Iraq war.

Sometimes I think their consciences are really not so delicate.

As for the political consultants who insult Mr. Trump so vigorously, they are the ones who did most to invent him. What do they ever do in good conscience?

Trump Was a Spark, Not the Fire The establishments, both media and conservative, failed to anticipate how they’d be consumed.

God bless our beloved country as it again undergoes one of its quiet upheavals.

Donald Trump will receive the Republican nomination for the presidency and nothing will be the same. How we do politics in America is changed and will not be going back. The usual standards and expectations have been turned on their head, and more than one establishment has been routed.

A decent interval should be set aside for sheer astonishment.

MegatrumpWe face six months of what will be a historically hellacious campaign. Yes, we picked the wrong time to stop taking opioids.

Before I go to larger issues I mention how everyone, especially the media, is blaming the media for Donald Trump’s rise. I hate to get in the way of their self-flagellation but that’s not how I see it. From the time he announced, they gave Mr. Trump unprecedented free media in long, live interviews, many by phone, some possibly from his bathtub. We’ll never know. It was a great boon to him and amounted, by one estimate, to nearly $2 billion worth of airtime.

But the media did not make Donald Trump’s allure, his allure made for big ratings. Mr. Trump was a draw from the beginning. If anyone had wanted to listen to Jeb Bush, cable networks would have been happy to show his rallies, too.

When Mr. Trump was on, ratings jumped, but it wasn’t only ratings, it was something else. It was the freak show at its zenith, it was great TV—you didn’t know what he was going to say next! He didn’t know! It was better than everyone else’s boring, prefabricated, airless, weightless, relentless word-saying—better than Ted Cruz, who seemed like someone who practiced sincere hand gestures in the mirror at night, better than Marco the moist robot, better than Hillary’s grim and horrifying attempts to chuckle like a person who chuckles.

And it was something else. TV producers were all sure he’d die on their show. They weren’t for Mr. Trump. By showing him they were revealing him: Look at this fatuous dope, see through him! They knew he’d quickly enough say something unforgivable, and if he said it on their air he died on their show! They took him down with the question! It was only after a solid six months of his not dying that they came to have qualms. They now understood they were helping him. Nothing he says is unforgivable to his supporters! Or, another way to put it, his fans would forgive anything so long as he promised to be what they want him to be, a human bomb that will explode by timer under a bench in Lafayette Park and take out all the people but leave the monuments standing.

In this regard today’s television producers remind me of the producers of 1969 who heard one day that Spiro Agnew, the idiotic new Republican vice president, was going to make a big speech lambasting the media for its liberal bias. They knew Agnew was about to make a fool of himself. Who would believe him? So they covered that speech all over the place, hyped it like you wouldn’t believe—no one in America didn’t hear about it. It made Agnew a sensation. The American people—“the silent majority”—saw it as Agnew did. “Nattering nabobs of negativism,” from the witty, alliterative pen of William Safire, entered the language.

The producers had projected their own loathing. They found out they and America loathed different things.

That’s a little like what happened this year with TV and Mr. Trump.

My, that wasn’t much of a defense, was it?

The Trump phenomenon itself would normally be big enough for any political cycle, but another story of equal size isn’t being sufficiently noticed and deserves mention. The Democratic base has become more liberal—we all know this part—but in a way the Republican base has, too. Or rather it is certainly busy updating what conservative means. The past few months, in state after state, one thing kept jumping out at me in primary exit polls. Democrats consistently characterize themselves as more liberal than in 2008, a big liberal year. This week in Indiana, 68% of Democratic voters called themselves liberal or very liberal. In 2008 that number was 39%. That’s a huge increase.

In South Carolina this year, 53% of Democrats called themselves very or somewhat liberal. Eight years ago that number was 44%—again, a significant jump. In Pennsylvania, 66% of respondents called themselves very or somewhat liberal. That number eight years ago was 50%.

The dynamic is repeated in other states. The Democratic Party is going left.

But look at the Republican side. However they characterize themselves, a majority of GOP voters now are supporting the candidate who has been to the left of the party’s established thinking on a host of issues—entitlement spending, trade, foreign policy. Mr. Trump’s colorfully emphatic stands on immigration have been portrayed as so wackily rightist that the nonrightist nature of his other, equally consequential positions has been obscured.

In my observation it is a mistake to think Mr. Trump’s supporters are so thick they don’t know his stands. They do.

It does not show an understanding of the moment to say Donald Trump by himself has changed the Republican Party. It is closer to the mark to say the base of the party is changing and Mr. Trump’s electric arrival on the scene made obvious what was already happening.

For this reason among others, I do not understand the impulse of the NeverTrump people to anathametize and shun those Republicans who will not vow to oppose Mr. Trump and commit to defeating him. They have been warned that if they don’t do these things they will not be allowed to help rebuild the party after Mr. Trump destroys it. Conservatives love to throw conservatives out of conservatism; it’s like an ancestral tic. But great political movements should not be run like private clubs. And have the anathemitizers noticed they aren’t in charge anymore? That in the great antiestablishment disruption of 2016 they have been upended, too?

We don’t know what’s coming in 2016, or what happens to the GOP if Mr. Trump wins or loses. If there is a rebuilding of the party, as opposed to an ongoing reinvention, we don’t know when that will commence. If it is a rebuilding, on what grounds do the NeverTrump forces think it will be rebuilt? As a neoconservative, functionally open-borders, slash-the-entitlements party?

I am not sure, whatever happens in 2016, that there will ever again be a market for that product. All this cycle I’ve been thinking of what Lee Atwater said when he wanted to communicate to a politician that a policy was not popular: “The dawgs don’t like the dawg food.”

Centers of gravity are shifting. The new Republican Party will not be rebuilt and re-formed in McLean, it will be rebuilt or re-formed in Massapequa.

Finally, can Mr. Trump win? Of course. Uphill but possible. If this year has taught us anything it is what Harrison Salisbury said he’d learned from a lifetime in journalism: “Expect the unexpected.”

Simple Patriotism Trumps Ideology After 16 years, Americans have grown tired of both conservative and liberal abstractions.

The wind is at Donald Trump’s back, and it’s the kind that doesn’t lessen but build. Last week he won the New York primary with an astounding 60% of the vote to John Kasich’s 25% and Ted Cruz’s 15%. This week he swept the five-state Northeast regional primaries with numbers that neared or surpassed the New York results—54% in Maryland, 57% in Pennsylvania, 58% in Connecticut, 61% in Delaware and 64% in Rhode Island. He beat Mr. Kasich in Greenwich, Conn., the affluent enclave of the old moderate Republicanism. Amazingly, he carried every county in all five states, and every county in New York except Manhattan. With 10 million votes, Mr. Trump is on track to become the biggest primary vote-getter in GOP history. He did well with varied demographic groups, old and young, college graduates, rich and not.

This is the kind of political momentum that tends to grow. A political saying attributed to Haley Barbour is that in politics this is the dynamic: Good gets better and bad gets worse. Very smart analysts and reporters have been translating all these victories into delegate counts, which of course is the key question. But as I look at where we are I think: Get your mind off 1,237; get your mind on the wind at Donald Trump’s back. After all the missteps and embarrassments of the past few months, his support is building.

Donald Trump“I consider myself the presumptive nominee,” Mr. Trump said in his victory remarks. He is.

Nothing wrong with Mr. Cruz and Mr. Kasich continuing to forge on. If you added their votes together the other night, Mr. Trump still would have beaten them. But they’re imagining they still have a shot, and Mr. Cruz just brought in Carly Fiorina as a reinforcement. His admiration of Ronald Reagan is such that he even imitates his blunders. That is what it was for Reagan in 1976 when he picked a running mate before the convention. Desperate gambits are more likely to work when they don’t look desperate.

Here I note an odd aspect of this cycle. Candidates at this point, roughly nine months in, are supposed to be dog-tired, near the end of their personal resources, exhausted and, if they’re not winning, depressed. That’s how it usually goes. But Mr. Kasich is clearly having the time of his life and told me as much in November. Mr. Cruz told me the same thing last week, at a Journal editorial board meeting. I expected to see him tired and dragging. No, fresh as a daisy. Mr. Trump too is clearly having a ball.

I find their joy distressing. America is faced with overwhelming problems, the voters are deeply concerned about our future, and they’re happy little chappies in the cable news town hall. I think they’ve absorbed too well the idea of the power of the happy warrior. I would respect them more if now and then they’d outline our problems and look blue.

In my continuing quest to define aspects of Mr. Trump’s rise, to my own satisfaction, I offer what was said this week in a talk with a small group of political activists, all of whom back him. One was about to begin approaching various powerful and influential Republicans who did not support him, and make the case. I told her I’d been thinking that maybe Mr. Trump’s appeal is simple: What Trump supporters believe, what they perceive as they watch him, is that he is on America’s side.

And that comes as a great relief to them, because they believe that for 16 years Presidents Bush and Obama were largely about ideologies. They seemed not so much on America’s side as on the side of abstract notions about justice and the needs of the world. Mr. Obama’s ideological notions are leftist, and indeed he is a hero of the international left. He is about international climate-change agreements, and leftist views of gender, race and income equality. Mr. Bush’s White House was driven by a different ideology—neoconservatism, democratizing, nation building, defeating evil in the world, privatizing Social Security.

But it was all ideology.

Then Mr. Trump comes and in his statements radiate the idea that he’s not at all interested in ideology, only in making America great again—through border security and tough trade policy, etc. He’s saying he’s on America’s side, period.

And because people are so happy to hear this after 16 years, because it seems right to them, they give him a pass on his lack of experience in elective office and the daily realities of national politics. They accept him even though he is a casino developer and brander who became famous on reality TV.

They forgive it all. Not only because they’re tired of bad policy but because they’re tired of ideology.

You could see this aspect of Trumpism—I’m about America, end of story—in his much-discussed foreign-policy speech this week. I have found pretty much everything said about it to be true. It was long, occasionally awkward-sounding and sometimes contradictory. It was interesting nonetheless. He was trying to blend into a coherent whole what he’s previously said when popping off on the hustings. He was trying to establish that there’s a theme to the pudding. He was also trying to reassure potential supporters that he is actually serious, that he does have a foreign-policy framework as opposed to just a grab bag of emotional impulses.

The speech was an attack on the reigning Washington foreign-policy elite of both parties, which he scored as incompetent and unsuccessful: “Logic was replaced with foolishness and arrogance, and this led to one foreign-policy disaster after another.” Mistakes in Iraq, Egypt, Libya and Syria threw the region “into crisis,” and helped create ISIS. He described democracy-promotion efforts as destructive, costing “thousands of American lives and many trillions of dollars.” Our resources are overextended, our allies must contribute more, our friends don’t trust us, nor do our allies respect us. He called for “a coherent foreign policy based on American interests.” His interest is “focusing on creating stability.” “We must stop importing extremism through senseless immigration policies,” including a “pause for reassessment,” which will help prevent the next San Bernardino.

He positioned himself to Hillary Clinton’s left on foreign policy—she is hawkish, too eager for assertions of U.S. military power, and has bad judgement. This will be the first time in modern history a Republican presidential candidate is to the left of the Democrat, and that will make things interesting. It reminded me of how Mr. Trump, in his insistence that he will not cut or add new limits to entitlement spending, could get to Mrs. Clinton’s left on that key domestic question, too.

He certainly jumbles up the categories. Bobby Knight, introducing him at a rally in Evansville, Ind., on Thursday, said that Mr. Trump is not a Republican or a Democrat. The crowd seemed to like that a lot.

Those conservative writers and thinkers who have for nine months warned the base that Mr. Trump is not a conservative should consider the idea that a large portion of the Republican base no longer sees itself as conservative, at least as that term has been defined the past 15 years by Washington writers and thinkers.

That Moment When 2016 Hits You ‘I felt a wave of sadness,’ said one friend. This year’s politics have that effect on a lot of Americans.

Have you had your 2016 Moment? I think you probably have, or will.

The Moment is that sliver of time in which you fully realize something epochal is happening in politics, that there has never been a presidential year like 2016, and suddenly you are aware of it in a new, true and personal way. It tends to involve a poignant sense of dislocation, a knowledge that our politics have changed and won’t be going back.

We’ve had a lot to absorb—the breaking of a party, the rise of an outlandish outsider; a lurch to the left in the other party, the popular rise of a socialist. Alongside that, the enduring power of a candidate even her most ardent supporters accept as corrupt. Add the lowering of standards, the feeling of no options, the coarsening, and all the new estrangements.

The Moment is when it got to you, or when it fully came through.

My friend Lloyd, a Manhattan lawyer and GOP campaign veteran, had two Moments. The first came when he took his 12-year-old on a father-son trip to New Hampshire to see the primary. They saw Ted Cruz speak at a restaurant, and Bernie Sanders in a boisterous rally. “It was great and wonderful,” Lloyd said.

Which way?Then it happened. “The Monday night before the voting we were at a Donald Trump rally. A woman in the audience screamed out the P-word to refer to a rival candidate. Trump repeated it from the podium, and my kid heard it and looked at me.” Lloyd was mortified. Welcome to the splendor of democracy, son. “I thought, ‘So we have come to this.’ ”

It didn’t end there. Lloyd’s second Moment came a month later, the morning after the raucous GOP debate that featured references to hand size. Lloyd was in the car with his son, listening to the original Broadway cast recording of “Hamilton.” “I blurted out, ‘How exactly has America managed to travel from that to this?’ ” American history is fiercely imperfect and made by humans. “Yet in the rearview mirror it appears ennobling and grand. And now it feels jagged, and the fabric is worn.”

A friend I’ll call Bill, a political veteran from the 1980s and ’90s, also had his Moment with his child, a 14-year-old daughter who is a budding history buff. He had never taken her to the Reagan Library, so last month they went. As she stood watching a video of Reagan speaking, he thought of Reagan and FDR, of JFK and Martin Luther King. His daughter, he realized, would probably never see political leaders of such stature and grace, though she deserved to. Her first, indelible political memories were of lower, grubbier folk. “Leaders with Reaganesque potential no longer go into politics—and why would they, with all the posturing and plasticity that it requires?”

He added: “I felt a wave of sadness.”

Another political veteran, my friend John, also had his Moment during the New Hampshire primary. Out door-knocking for Jeb Bush, “I was struck as I walked along a neighborhood using the app that described the voters in each house. So many multigenerational families of odd collections of ages in houses with missing roof shingles or shutters askew or paint peeling. Cars needing repair.”

What was the story inside those houses? Unemployment, he thought, elder care, divorce, custody battles. “It was easy to see a collective loss of hope in a once-thriving town.” He sensed “years of neglect and sadness. Something is brewing.”

My Moment came a month ago. I’d recently told a friend my emotions felt too close to the surface—for months history had been going through me and I felt like a vibrating fork. I had not been laughing at the splintering of a great political party but mourning it. Something of me had gone into it. Party elites seemed to have no idea why it was shattering, which meant they wouldn’t be able to repair it, whatever happens with Mr. Trump.

I was offended that those curiously quick to write essays about who broke the party were usually those who’d backed the policies that broke it. Lately conservative thinkers and journalists had taken to making clear their disdain for the white working class. I had actually not known they looked down on them. I deeply resented it and it pained me. If you’re a writer lucky enough to have thoughts and be paid to express them and there are Americans on the ground struggling, suffering—some of them making mistakes, some unlucky—you don’t owe them your airy, well-put contempt, you owe them your loyalty. They too have given a portion of their love to this great project, and they are in trouble.

A few nights earlier, I’d moderated a panel in New York, on, yes, the ironic soundtrack of election year 2016, “Hamilton.” At one point I quoted a line. It is when Eliza sings, just as war has come and things are bleak: “How lucky we are to be alive right now.” As I quoted it my voice caught. I asked a friend later if he’d noticed. Yes, he said, quizzically, comfortingly, we did.

The following day I spoke at a school in Florida, awoke the next morning spent, got coffee, fired up the iPad, put on cable news. I read an email thread from a group of conservative women—very bright, all ages, all decorous and dignified. But tempers were high, and they were courteously tearing each other apart over Mr. Trump and the GOP.

Then to my own email, full of notes from people pro- and anti- Trump, but all seemed marked by some kind of grieving. I looked up and saw Hillary Clinton yelling on TV and switched channels. Breaking news, said the crawl. A caravan of Trump supporters driving to an outdoor rally in Fountain Hills, Ariz., had been blocked by demonstrators. The helicopter shot showed a highway backed up for miles. No one seemed to be in charge, as is often the case in America. It was like an unmovable force against an unmovable object.

I watched dumbly, tiredly. Then for no reason—this is true, it just doesn’t sound it—I thought of an old Paul Simon song that had been crossing my mind, “The Boy in the Bubble.” I muted the TV, found the song on YouTube, and listened as I stared at the soundless mile of cars and the soundless demonstrators. As the lyrics came—“The way we look to a distant constellation / That’s dying in a corner of the sky / . . . Don’t cry baby / Don’t cry”—my eyes filled with tears. And a sob welled up and I literally put my hands to my face and sobbed, silently, for I suppose a minute.

Because my country is in trouble.

Because I felt anguish at all the estrangements.

Because some things that shouldn’t have changed have changed.

Because too much is being lost. Because the great choice in a nation of 320 million may come down to Crazy Man versus Criminal.

And yes, I know this is all personal, and not column-ish.

But that was my Moment.

You’ll feel better the next day, I promise, but you won’t be able to tell yourself that this is history as usual anymore. This is big, what we’re living through.

New York’s Vote Matters for a Change Trump tries to recover from his Wisconsin deflation, while Sanders finally gets aggressive.

In Wisconsin and in the weeks leading up to it Donald Trump got wounded. Big animals get wounded and come back. The question is whether he’s a big animal or something smaller that skittered around the forest and finally picked the wrong fight.

Wisconsin almost certainly foreclosed his chance to walk into Cleveland with enough delegates to win on the first ballot. The convention will be open, and contested.

There’s nothing easy about Mr. Trump. He leaves his supporters’ hearts in their mouths. He leaves his enemies happy then self-doubting, triumphant then fatalistic. But what we have witnessed the past few weeks is his deflation, a real one, and the worst kind: It was all his fault. It wasn’t the anti-Trump forces and it wasn’t Ted Cruz, it was his lax, louche indiscipline.

But now we cut to New York. We are about to witness something of a Trump reinflation.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump

The other night he drew some 10,000 people to a rally in Bethpage, Long Island, which the Daily News called “riotous” and Newsday called “rousing.” I lived in Long Island from age 5 to 16 and go there often. My friends and their children are a generation or two from Brooklyn and Queens, and Brooklyn and Queens were one or two generations from the old country. Long Islanders carry within them, still and more than they know, a love for America tinged by family lore of the immigrant experience—an old and patriotic sense that gets mixed up, in the current way, with a nationalistic sense. Republicans who were amusing themselves on social media the night of the rally—as word spread of turnout they were sending out pictures of Joey Buttafuoco—look down on those rally-goers at their peril. They will be part of the base of whatever takes the place of the current Republican Party.

Mr. Trump, in the video I saw, was masterly. “We don’t win anymore,” he said. “We don’t fight like people from Long Island. We don’t fight like people from New York.” He laid into Mr. Cruz: “Remember when he started lecturing me on ‘New York values’ like we’re no good?” That was the authentic sound of working New York: “Like we’re no good.”

And it felt fresh, because no one really campaigns for the presidency in New York anymore. Its primaries are in April, usually after everything’s been settled. In the general election New York’s in the bag for the Democrats, so why should they expend the energy or Republicans the time?

Candidates for president only come here for major media interviews and for money. They pick Manhattan up and shake it like a big pink piggy bank—$60K at the downtown breakfast, $600K at the uptown cocktail party. They enter the homes of the great and powerful—the spacious rooms, high ceilings, plump sofas, shiny floors, important art, views of Central Park—and they think: “Boy, they sure got it good. Maybe the economy isn’t so bad!”

The rich of New York thus hold an outsize place in the Republican and Democratic imagination. But the not-rich—the middle, the hanging-on and the poor—have no place at all.

Republicans especially, the past 20 or so years, have no sense of them. They know the hedge-funders and the rooms with the Rothkos. Their vision of everything else comes from old movies like “Dog Day Afternoon.” They’re surprised we’re not all running around in the streets shouting “Attica! Attica!”

What Republicans especially fail to appreciate is that New York more than ever is full of legal immigrants. If you sit on the side of a street fair in non-hipster Brooklyn—in Bay Ridge, for instance—you’ll see all the world passing by: people from China, Ireland, Lebanon, Poland, South and Central America, Asia, Africa, Arabia. They are young. They’re expending all their energy doing what people do to establish themselves—finding the job, keeping it, paying the rent, finding someone to love, making a family, making it all work.

So far they have no time for politics—but they will. They’re not aligned—but they will be. They are open to persuasion. They will consider your argument. All you have to do is be there and talk to them. If the Republican Party were thinking long-term, it would. Maybe when the party is reconstituting itself—trying to rebuild a damaged or destroyed party, or inventing a new one—they’ll recognize these people too as a potential part of their base.

In any case Mr. Trump is expected to win big. He’s 31 points ahead in the polls. Is there any chance he can discipline himself and sustain the discipline, create a real campaign, professionalize his operation? Would it make a difference? Or are his reputation and his mess set so firmly in concrete nothing can change his outcome?

On the Democratic side Bernie Sanders has turned tough. He seems to have come face to face with the fact that he really wants to win. He said Hillary Clinton is not “qualified” to be president because of her support for the Iraq war, “disastrous” trade policies, and taking Wall Street money. His campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, upped the ante by saying if Mrs. Clinton hits back unfairly, “they’re going to see how a real New Yorker fights back.”

God bless New York for stripping the passive from the passive-aggressive campaign they were waging against each other until this week.

I saw Mrs. Clinton at Harlem’s Apollo Theater last week. The audience was appropriately enthusiastic but not wild. Soon after, I watched the Sanders rally in the Bronx—a crowd of at least 15,000 that was wild. A Hillary supporter I spoke to at the Apollo confessed she was there to reignite her excitement. In her life she was surrounded by Bernie supporters. It leaves you feeling defensive.

If he dings her bad or wins in New York it will be a real setback for Mrs. Clinton, and an embarrassment.

Everything on both sides is still so in play.

Washington Republicans continue their fantasy of the white knight who comes to Cleveland and saves the day—the magical unifying figure who electrifies the convention and wins on the fourth ballot. But how would the large majority of Republicans who’ve voted for Mr. Trump or Mr. Cruz feel about that? Not good!

Again, if Mr. Trump wins, a significant part of the party splits off. If he doesn’t, a significant part of the party likely isn’t there in November. I was asked this week if Trump always intended to break the party. I don’t think so; I think he set out to win. But whether he wins or not he has succeeded in demonstrating to the party that it is and was broken. He made the information unavoidable.

A friend with whom I’d been discussing the convention, a former Romney bundler, this week sent me a gift: handsome two-inch heels, heavily padded on the sole so if there is trouble you could run in them. The outside fabric is rough camouflage, the kind a soldier would wear in the field.

That’s a fellow whose fantasy of what the convention will be like is probably closer to the mark.

Trump’s Mess Has Become His Message His supporters are getting embarrassed by his sheer dumb grossness.

This is almost always true:

A woman who aborts a child is operating within an emotional and spiritual context of fear, disappointment, confusion and sadness. If she receives an illegal abortion she should not be “punished” by the law. This is in line with long human tradition and is based on the simple wisdom that she has already been gravely and tragically penalized: She has lost her child, someone who was very likely going to love her, someone she very likely would have loved. The doctor who performs such an abortion on the other hand is not in turmoil, he is in business. He breaks the law and ends the life of the child with full consciousness, and for profit. He should be “punished.” He should be in jail.

That we even have to discuss this is absurd. It also feels very 1970s, when the subject to so many was new. I guess it’s still new to Donald Trump, and so unexamined, un-thought-through. Yes, he walked back or clarified his stand on punishment, and yes, Chris Matthews badgered and browbeat him on MSNBC. But presidential hopefuls, especially Republican ones, are routinely badgered and browbeaten. You have to deal with it. It’s part of how you earn the big job.

But I feel like we’re missing something in this latest.

Donald TrumpMr. Trump is hurting himself, in real time and for the first time. We will likely see it, and soon, in the polls. Already his numbers in next week’s Wisconsin primary have fallen, and as for women—well, with women nationally Mr. Trump is currently more popular than cholera, but not by much.

We’re missing what’s happening because we’re blocked by clichés. The first great Trump cliché, which began seven or eight months ago, was that he’d quickly do himself in with some outrageous comment. So everyone waited. His insults to John McCain, Megyn Kelly—that would do it. But it didn’t. The more outrageous he was the stronger he got.

So a new cliché was born, the still-reigning one: Whatever Mr. Trump says it won’t hurt him, people will just love him more.

But that’s not right. It was always a mistake to think one explosive statement would blow his candidacy up. What could damage him, and is damaging him, is the aggregate—a growing pile of statements and attitudes that becomes a mood, a warning sign, a barrier.

It’s been going on for four or five weeks, and you can take your pick as to the tipping point. Maybe it was when he threatened to “spill the beans” on another candidate’s wife, or when he retweeted the jeering pictures of her and his own wife. Maybe it was his inability to clearly, promptly denounce the KKK; maybe it was when he hinted at riots if he’s cheated out of the nomination. Maybe it was Corey Lewandowski’s alleged battery of reporter Michelle Fields. Maybe it was when Mr. Trump referred in debate to his genitals, a true national first.

It has all added up into a large blob of sheer dumb grossness. He is now seriously misjudging the room. The room is still America.

I speak to Trump supporters a lot, and they are getting embarrassed. Their feeling was perfectly encapsulated by what Ann Coulter said on a podcast after the retweeting of the wives’ photos: “Do you realize our candidate is mental?” She said of having to defend his mad statements and tweets: “It’s like constantly having to bail out your 16-year-old son from prison.”

It has left me thinking about the political theory of The Mess. The Mess is something a candidate occasionally brings with him that voters can tell is going to cause trouble down the road. The Mess is a warning sign; it tells potential supporters to slow down, think twice. The Mess might be a pattern of scrapes with the law, a series of love affairs or other scandals. Voters will accept normal, flawed human beings but they don’t like patterns of bad behavior. They don’t like when they see a Mess, because they don’t want to elect trouble to high office. Donald Trump’s Mess is his mouth, his indiscipline, his refusal to be . . . serious.

At the same time Mr. Trump doesn’t even seem to be trying to do the one big thing he has to do now. He is the front-runner for the nomination. At this point it is his job to keep the support he has and persuade those who don’t like him to give him a second or third look. To do that he only has to be more thoughtful, stable and mature in his approach—show he may be irrepressible and fun and surprising, even shocking, but at bottom he has within him a plausible president.

Instead, he is stuck at nutty. Rather than attempt to win over, he doubles down. In the process he shows that what occupies his mind isn’t big issues, significant questions or the position of the little guy, but subjects that are small, petty, unworthy.

Instead of reassuring potential or reluctant supporters, he has given them pause. Instead of gathering in, he is repelling. This is political malpractice on a grand scale.

It was always Mr. Trump who was the only one big enough to take down Mr. Trump. He may be doing it. In the process he does a great favor to his current and potential opponents. One of the things Mr. Trump does is make everyone else look normal. His outrageousness cancels out theirs. Once Hillary Clinton was too corrupt to be elected, had too many negatives, too much bad history from her early days in Arkansas to the Clinton Foundation, Benghazi, the emails. She brought and brings quite a mess.

But his mess cancels out her mess.

The sheer force of Donald Trump’s weird, outsized strangeness has made her look normal. It’s made Ted Cruz look normal too, like a nice, sincere fella right in the middle of the political bell curve.

There are people who used to dismiss Trump supporters, and who later self-corrected to show compassion from great heights: “My God, they’re suffering in America.” They have now taken a newly jaundiced eye—his supporters are his enablers.

My thought is different. Maybe the sadness here is that Mr. Trump’s supporters are earnest and full of concern for America and he isn’t worthy of them. Maybe he only harnessed their legitimate anger but can’t do anything with it because he’s not as serious as so many of them are, but a flake, a dope with poor impulse control.

What happens to Trumpism—his stands on illegal immigration, trade, entitlements—when Mr. Trump is gone? Does he have any sense of responsibility for what he leads?

And the immediate question: Is it possible he can change and be worthy of the moment? I don’t know but doubt it, because in my observation people at the end of middle age don’t usually change, they just become more so. In any case it’s getting late. So far Donald Trump has conquered all expectations, half-conquered the American political system, and almost conquered one of our two great political parties. It is sad he can’t conquer himself.