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.

Unite to Defeat Radical Jihadism It will require Western elites to form an alliance with the citizens they’ve long disrespected.

These things are obvious after the Brussels bombings:

In striking at the political heart of Europe, home of the European Union, the ISIS jihadists were delivering a message: They will not be stopped.

What we are seeing now is not radical jihadist Islam versus the West but, increasingly, radical jihadist Islam versus the world. They are on the move in Africa, parts of Asia and of course throughout the Mideast.

Radical jihadism is not going to go away, not for a long time, probably decades. For 15 years it has in significant ways shaped our lives, and it will shape our children’s too. They will have to win the war.

It will not be effectively fought with guilt, ambivalence or double-mindedness. That, in the West, will have to change.

The jihadists’ weapons and means will get worse. Right now it’s guns and suicide vests. In the nature of things their future weapons will be more sophisticated and deadly.

At a vigil in London’s Trafalgar Square following the March 24 terror attacks in Brussels.

At a vigil in London’s Trafalgar Square following the March 24 terror attacks in Brussels.

The usual glib talk of politicians—calls for unity, vows that we will not give in to fear—will produce in the future what they’ve produced in the past: nothing. “The thoughts and the prayers of the American people are with the people of Belgium,” said the president, vigorously refusing to dodge clichés. “We must unite and be together, regardless of nationality, race or faith, in fighting against the scourge of terrorism.” It is not an “existential threat,” he noted, as he does. But if you were at San Bernardino or Fort Hood, the Paris concert hall or the Brussels subway, it would feel pretty existential to you.

There are many books, magazine long-reads and online symposia on the subject of violent Islam. I have written of my admiration for “What ISIS Really Wants” by Graeme Wood, published a year ago in the Atlantic. ISIS supporters have tried hard to make their project knowable and understood, Mr. Wood reported: “We can gather that their state rejects peace as a matter of principle; that it hungers for genocide; that its religious views make it constitutionally incapable of certain types of change . . . and that it considers itself a harbinger of—and headline player in—the imminent end of the world.” ISIS is essentially “medieval” in its religious nature, and “committed to purifying the world by killing vast numbers of people.” They intend to eliminate the infidel and raise up the caliphate—one like the Ottoman empire, which peaked in the 16th century and then began its decline.

When I think of the future I find myself going back to what I freely admit is a child’s math, a simple 10% rule.
Opinion Journal Video
American Islamic Forum for Democracy Founder and President Dr. Zuhdi Jasser on the ideological war against radical Islam in Europe. Photo credit: Getty Images.

There are said to be 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. Most are and have been peaceful and peaceable, living their lives and, especially in America, taking an admirable role in the life of the nation.

But this is a tense, fraught moment within the world of Islam, marked by disagreements on what Islam is and what its texts mean. With that context, the child’s math: Let’s say only 10% of the 1.6 billion harbor feelings of grievance toward “the West,” or desire to expunge the infidel, or hope to re-establish the caliphate. That 10% is 160 million people. Let’s say of that group only 10% would be inclined toward jihad. That’s 16 million. Assume that of that group only 10% really means it—would really become jihadis or give them aid and sustenance. That’s 1.6 million. That is a lot of ferociousness in an age of increasingly available weapons, including the chemical, biological and nuclear sort.

My math tells me it will be a long, hard fight. We will not be able to contain them, we will have to beat them.

We must absorb that central fact, as Ronald Reagan once did with a different threat. Asked by his new national security adviser to state his exact strategic goals vis-à-vis the Soviet Union, Reagan: “We win, they lose.”

That’s where we are now. The “they” is radical Islamic jihadism.

Normal people have seen that a long time, but the leaders of the West—its political class, media powers and opinion shapers—have had a hard time coming to terms. I continue to believe part of the reason is that religion isn’t very important to many of them, so they have trouble taking it seriously as a motivation of others. An ardent Catholic, evangelical Christian or devout Jew would be able to take the religious aspect seriously when discussing ISIS. An essentially agnostic U.S. or European political class is less able. Thus they cast about—if only we give young Islamist men jobs programs or social integration schemes, we can stop this trouble. But jihadists don’t want to be integrated. They want trouble.

Our own president still won’t call radical Islam what it is, thinking apparently that if we name them clearly they’ll only hate us more, and Americans on the ground, being racist ignoramuses, will be incited by candor to attack their peaceful Muslim neighbors.

All this for days has had me thinking of Gordon Brown, which is something I bet you can’t say. On April 28, 2010, in Rochdale, England, Britain’s then prime minister accidentally performed a great public service by revealing what liberal Western leaders think of their people.

At a campaign stop a 65-year-old woman named Gillian Duffy approached him and shared her concerns regarding crime, taxes and immigration. Mr. Brown made a great show of friendliness and appreciation. Then, still wearing a live mic, he got into his Jaguar, complained to his aides about “that woman” and said, “She’s just a sort of bigoted woman who said she used to be Labour.”

That was the authentic sound of the Western elite. Labour lost the election. But the elites have for a long time enjoyed nothing more than sneering at the anger and “racism” of their own people. They do not have the wisdom to understand that if they convincingly attempted to protect the people and respected their anxieties, the people would feel far less rage.

I end with a point about the sheer power of pride right now in Western public life. Republican operatives and elected officials in the U.S. don’t want to change their stand on illegal immigration, and a key reason is pride. They’re stiff-necked, convinced of their own higher moral thinking, and they will have open borders—which they do not call “open borders” but “comprehensive immigration reform,” which includes border-control mechanisms. But they’ll never get to the mechanisms. They see the rise of Donald Trump and know it has something to do with immigration, but—they can’t bow. Some months ago I spoke to an admirable conservative group and said the leaders of the GOP should change their stand. I saw one of their leaders wince, as if I had made a faux pas. Which, I understood, I had. I understood too that terrorism is only making the border issue worse, and something’s got to give.

But I doubt they can change. It would be like . . . respecting Gillian Duffy.

Though maybe European leaders can grow to respect her, after Brussels. Maybe the blasts there have shaken their pride.

Will the GOP Break Apart or Evolve? A bigger tent, Donald Trump as ringmaster—and an animal unlike the old elephant.

Super Tuesday II didn’t so much yield results as reveal continuing trends. Donald Trump up, Hillary Clinton up.

This is what I hear from Washington’s Republican political leaders and operatives: Wait and see. There’s still time for Mr. Trump to self-destruct, for voters to start to see through him. In the meantime, get all the delegate-selection rules, all the names and contact points for every delegate picked so far. If we have to fight it on the floor, we fight it on the floor. Or, more delightfully for sentimentalists, in smoke-filled rooms. But he must be stopped.

From those Republicans who don’t want Mr. Trump yet recognize and to a degree respect Trump supporters’ critique of the GOP establishment—“You have failed”—there are warnings that cheating him out of the nomination, beating him not through fair cleverness but through chicanery, would break the party and ensure 2016 defeat. They look at those who say they’ll set up their own, new GOP, and think: Any jackass can knock down a barn, but it takes a man to build one. Your venture will go nowhere good. You’ll help produce a second Clinton presidency.

Here I quote a handsome, accomplished woman normally full of spiky political observations, whom I saw at Nancy Reagan’s funeral. I asked how she feels about what’s happening. She said with a shrug that she was newly modest: “I know I don’t understand politics anymore. I know I don’t understand what’s happening.”

Mad ElephantTrump supporters do not comprehend the degree to which establishment figures have been concussed, and personally humbled, by his rise. They’ll sneer at this, many of them, but they should see humility as opportunity.

From those Republicans who are Never Trump, I hear an unchanged refrain: I can’t back a man who’s essentially an improv act, who has no qualifications for the office, who’s in it from some mad sense of personal destiny. He knows what will play with the crowd but has no idea what he believes, because he believes in nothing and calculates everything. He knows “the price of everything and the value of nothing.” He is at least potentially fascist and probably racist.

And everyone means it.

A side story that may be the central one: It is possible there is some big, unforetold evolution going on within the Republican Party, and more suddenly than anyone would have expected. Mr. Trump is bringing Democrats in. They don’t want to be Democrats anymore, or continue their role as members of always-Democratic families, and they don’t want to vote for Hillary. They’re considering coming fully into the GOP tent. But their presence in the tent, with Mr. Trump as ringmaster means—if the party holds—the GOP transmogrifies into some wholly new jumble of political impulses. Some new issue sets, some new stands that imply a wholly new approach to what conservatism means and is.

Readers of this column know much of this will not be unwelcome. It would be good to end illegal, as opposed to legal, immigration—and that, Mr. Trump says, is his plan. It will be good if Republicans absorb the information that no reordering of entitlement spending will be possible until Washington leaders embark on some confidence-building measures that will allow people to trust them to move fairly and realistically.

But right now for the party it’s breakage or evolution. The latter would yield an animal that won’t look like the old elephant.

It should probably be said again that everything had to fail for Mr. Trump to rise. You know all the failures, but since we seem to be quoting Uber drivers this cycle, I’ll offer the thoughts of one I talked to in Providence, R.I., a month ago.

She’s for Mr. Trump. Started out against him: Who is this guy, he’s a TV star. But she listened and thought: Yeah, I agree. She knows he has an unusual biography for a president. She said most of her friends have experienced the same arc from skepticism to support. She told me her reasons, the usual, but then said something poignant. This is from memory, not notes, but I’ll put it in quotes for easy reading: “Every four years we’re serious, we try to get it right, we do our best to choose the right guy. And nothing we do works! Bush, no, Romney, no, Obama’s a disaster. But we did our best! And now we’re thinking ‘Nothing worked. Take a chance.’ And if he’s no good we’ll fire him in four years.”

I looked at the other passenger, and our eyes locked. We’d just heard the heart of it, the bottom-line mood.

I end with certain Trump questions that nine months in are not answered.

I don’t know Donald Trump’s heart, not to mention his head. I am not sure he knows his heart and head. That’s part of what last summer made him captivating. I’ll never forget a veteran liberal journalist saying to me, in wonder: “I can’t stop listening to him.”

I said, “Me too.” You never knew what he’d say next. There was a sense he didn’t know what he’d say next.

But does he know the difference between a man who’s attempting to be a political leader and a man who is a mere commentator? Does he understand the former carries deep and particular responsibilities? Just this past week, when asked what would happen if he has most of the delegates needed and the party moves to deny him the nomination at the convention, he blithely responded: “I think you’d have riots.” Coming from a pundit or columnist that would be just another opinion. Coming from a political leader it sounded like a threat. Nice little convention you have here, shame if someone put a match to it.

Why does he speak so carelessly and irresponsibly about things such as violence and protests at his rallies? Does he not understand American politics is always potentially a powder keg?

He has enough imagination to have invented Donald Trump. Why doesn’t he have enough to understand the potential impact of a leader’s remarks? Does he understand the power he would have if he were a person of normal comportment?

Mr. Trump acts surprised and wounded when people suggest he is bigoted. But anyone on social media can see that there is a portion, a quadrant, of his supporters who are rough and wild—anti-Semitic, racist. Maybe, to be charitable, a lot of them are 14-year-old boys acting out on Mom’s computer while she works her second shift. But plenty are actual adults.

Someone once said of Franklin D. Roosevelt that he’s like the Staten Island Ferry, pulling all the garbage in his wake. FDR’s Democratic coalition did contain some garbage, from KKK-supporting Southern Democrats to New York communists. That was some wake! It was also 80 years ago.

America is an imperfect country populated by imperfect people, but there would be a reason Mr. Trump draws the particular kind of garbage he draws. What is it?

And the central unanswered question: Is Donald Trump just a nut carried along by forces he himself doesn’t understand? Or is he something more than that, and more confounding?

Farewell to Nancy Reagan, a Friend and Patriot She was both steely and mystical—and there would have been no him without her.

The door has closed forever, said a friend, on a particular part of the past. Or to be more precise, first-person access to the Reagan era through one of its two most important figures has now, with the death of Nancy Reagan, ended. The era itself will never end—it is part of the history of our nation and yielded up its last unambiguously successful president. The spirit of that age: exuberant, expansive. “Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”

Here we could do comparisons to the current moment, but let’s not. Instead, a mere and affectionate remembrance of the lady we lost.

Stipulated: There was no him without her. He couldn’t have launched or sustained his great project if she hadn’t made him her project. He was thinking about the failure of the latest Soviet five-year plan, and making note of the new statistics on HUD spending. She was thinking about people and their agendas. If you served him well you were in; if not don’t let the door hit you. She was protective. Or, as she would put it, she was looking after her man. Her protectiveness was a patriotic act.

The late First Lady Nancy Reagan

The late First Lady Nancy Reagan

As first lady she was glamorous, meticulous. Everything had to be just so. There was a touching, old-fashioned sense that she wanted whichever visiting king or potentate to see America knows how to do it up right. She believed in fun, too. In the Reagan White House you could smoke, drink and dance, after the more subdued, abstemious Carter years. It was no place for puritans.

Her personality was wry, teasing, loyal, warm and fun. She was my darling friend.

In her last five or so years I visited her at the house on St. Cloud Road, in Bel Air, with her beloved longtime friend Robert Higdon. We would sit with her in her sunny bedroom with the peach-colored headboard and the exercise bicycle and the bed tables full of silver framed pictures—she and Ronnie dancing at the state dinner, Ronnie in his last years kissing her on the cheek.

We’d talk about nothing, everything. She had a big laugh, a soft chuckle and a gift for listening. She really heard you, picked up nuance, noted what was unsaid. She took a great and protective interest in the lives of her friends and family, noticed when things seemed off, didn’t avoid troublesome areas but brought them up. That was part of how she showed her care, “bringing it up.”

Gore Vidal said of John F. Kennedy that when he died a whole world of gossip went with him. Nancy loved gossip too, though we didn’t call it gossip but History of Humans. I would save up things going on in New York—who was seeing whom, who was on top of the world, who looked great, who needed a call. Half the time, she’d nod and say, “I heard that”—she had some network—and tell me more than I knew. The other half she’d say: “Really? I think we need to hear more.”

She wasn’t judging or prissy but amused and fascinated. She thought personal disasters a part of life, triumphs welcome good news, human mischief to be expected. She had come of age in a Hollywood where everyone was kind of a big colorful mess. They were rich and famous, sure, but at the end of the day everyone was making it through on a smile and a shoeshine. She liked the comedy of it all.

In her later years she spent a lot of time remembering the past, and sharing it. She watched cable news and was nothing if not current, and her observations of political figures were acute and occasionally piercing. But she took increasing enjoyment in thinking back to the time so-and-so came to the White House, the time they went to Geneva . . .

Afterward I thought: She’s telling herself that it really happened.

No one is the same size as history, no one’s that big. For a half-century history washed over her, and I think when it was over she looked back, or saw the pictures on the bedside—“There we were, dancing at the state dinner”—and thought of those days, “My God. A king was on line one. Ronnie was meeting with the Soviet premier down the hall. . . . That all happened. It couldn’t have happened, it is too big. But it happened.” I think she was, as she looked back, awed by her own life. And of course she had reason to be awed.

Here are two stories, one of steely Nancy and one of Nancy the somewhat mystical.

Steely Nancy: Some years ago we were talking about a Washington friend who was going through a crisis. Some of her struggles had become public, which only compounded her woes. Nancy Reagan got a steely look. You can’t be embarrassed, she said. Everyone in Washington has lost something, everyone’s been embarrassed by a story in the press or humiliated by a public firing or loss of stature. “It is a city of the humiliated,” she said. And she told me to give our friend some advice that was also an order: Get up off the mat.

Nancy the mystic, if that is the right word: In the house on St. Cloud Road you could feel Ronald Reagan all around you. The knickknacks, the pictures, the big Norman Rockwell portrait as you came in—it was a house about him. His office still had his desk and his things on it.

She wanted it that way. The love affair that became the great marriage that became the great partnership was never far from her thoughts. She missed him till the day she died.

One day at dusk in November 2013 we were talking quietly as I held her hand at her bedside. She began to talk about Ronnie and how even now he was ever-present to her. Then: “I didn’t believe in the afterlife. I never believed in it, but things have happened since Ronnie died. He visits me.”

“You mean you dream of him,” I said.

She got a quizzical look.

“I don’t know if it is dreams or what. It sounds funny or crazy, sometimes I wake up at night and he’s in bed next to me and I see him.” Once, she said, she woke in the middle of the night and looked over at the big beige stuffed chair at the bottom of the bed to the left. “You look cold,” she said to him, and went to the closet for a blanket. She draped it over him and went back to bed. The next morning she awoke and looked over at the chair. The blanket, she said, was still there, but moved to the side as if someone had pushed it when he left.

She could not, she said, explain this. Whatever it was, love, she felt, did not just disappear.

“I now believe in the afterlife,” she said.

Rest in peace Nancy Davis Reagan, darling girl, elegant lady, tough little patriot.

The Republican Party Is Shattering Stop Trump? Unite behind him? No matter the outcome, nothing will ever be the same.

I’m interested in where we are. I think we are seeing a great political party shatter before our eyes. I’m not sure I see a way around or through. I said so on TV the other night and got a lot of responses on social media. They said: Good. They said, “They are corrupt,” and “I am through.” Good riddance to bad rubbish. Next.

I am not experiencing it that way. For me the Republican Party was always the vehicle of a philosophy, conservative political thought—no more, no less. I have the past 10 years been its critic on wars and immigration, on the establishment’s self-seeking and failures of imagination. And yet at the prospect of the party’s shattering I feel somewhat shattered too. So many lives, so much effort went into its making. “I am more faithful than I intended to be.”

Dump TrumpI knew Tuesday night I was witnessing something grave, something bigger than 1976, that traumatic year when a Republican insurgent almost toppled the incumbent Republican president. Bigger too than 1964, when Goldwater conservatism swept the primaries and convention and lost the country. What is happening now is bigger and less remediable in part because the battles in the past were over conservatism, an actual political philosophy.

And I find myself receiving with some anger, even though I understand, those—especially on the top of the party—who are so blithely declaring the end of things. Do they understand what they’re ending? Did they ever? It started in 1860. It’s first great figure was a man called Lincoln. We’ll start a new party and call it Fred, they tweet. We’ll be the party in exile. Implicitly: And I and my friends will run it. Like little boys knocking over building blocks. And they say Donald Trump is careless.

But we are witnessing history. Something important is ending. It is hard to believe what replaces it will be better.

No one knows where this goes. The top of the party and the bottom have split. They disagree on the essentials.

Donald Trump won big Tuesday night, carrying seven states. As others have noted, if it were someone else he’d be called unassailable, the victor—“time to get in line.”

If trends continue—and political trends tend to—Mr. Trump will win or come very close to winning by the convention in July. If party forces succeed in finagling him out of the nomination his supporters will bolt, which will break the party. And it’s hard to see what kind of special sauce, what enduring loyalty would make them come back in the future.

If, on the other hand, Mr. Trump is given the crown in Cleveland, party political figures, operatives, loyalists, journalists and intellectuals, not to mention sophisticated suburbanites and, God knows, donors will themselves bolt. That is a smaller but not insignificant group. And again it’s hard to imagine the special sauce—the shared interests, the basic worldview—that would allow them to reconcile with Trump supporters down the road.

It’s no longer clear what shared principles endure. Everything got stretched to the breaking point the past 15 years.

Party leaders and thinkers should take note: It’s easier for a base to hire or develop a flashy new establishment than it is for an establishment to find itself a new base.

Even if the party stays together with a Trump win, what will it be? It will have been reconstituted. Yes, it will be a formal and proactive foe of illegal immigration, and it will rethink its approach to entitlements, but it will also be other things. What?

We are in uncharted territory. But the point is fissures and tensions simmering and growing for 15 years burst through, erupted.

The establishment was slow to see what was happening, slow to see Mr. Trump coming, in full denial as he continued to win. Their denial is self-indicting. They couldn’t see his appeal because they had no idea how their own people were experiencing America. I have been thinking a lot about establishments and elites. A central purpose of both, a prime responsibility, is to understand those who are not establishment and elite and look out for them, take care of them. Not in a government-from-on-high way, not with an air of noblesse oblige, but in a way that is respectfully attentive to the facts of their lives. You have a responsibility when you lead not to offend needlessly, not to impose realities you yourself can buy your way out of. You don’t privately make fun of people as knuckle-draggers, victims of teachers-union educations, low-information voters.

We had a low-information elite.

This column has been pretty devoted the past nine months to everything that gave rise to this moment, to Mr. Trump. His supporters disrespect the system—fair enough, it’s earned disrespect. They see Washington dysfunction and want to break through it—fair enough. In a world of thugs, they say, he will be our thug. Politics is a freak show? He’s our freak. They know they’re lowering standards by giving the top political job in America to a man who never held office. But they feel Washington lowered all standards first. They hate political correctness—there is no one in the country the past quarter-century who has not been embarrassed or humiliated for using the wrong word or concept or having the wrong thought—and see his rudeness as proof he hates PC too.

“He can think outside the box.” Can he ever.

He is a one-man wrecking crew of all political comportment, and a carrier of that virus. Yet his appeal is not only his outrageousness.

He is a divider of the Republican Party and yet an enlarger of the tent. His candidacy is contributing to record turnouts in primary after primary, and surely bringing in Democrats and independents. But it should concern his supporters that his brain appears to be a grab bag of impulses, and although he has many views and opinions he doesn’t seem to know anything about public policy or the way the White House or the government actually works.

He is unpredictable, which his supporters see as an advantage. But in a harrowing, hair-trigger world it matters that the leaders of other nations be able to calculate with some reasonable certainty what another leader would do under a given set of circumstances.

“He goes with his gut.” Yes. But George W. Bush was a gut player too, and it wasn’t pretty when his gut began to fail.

The GOP elite is about to spend a lot of money and hire a lot of talent, quickly, to try to kill Trump off the next two weeks. There will be speeches, ads—an onslaught. It will no doubt do Mr. Trump some damage, but not much.

It will prove to Trump supporters that what they think is true—their guy is the only one who will stand up to the establishment, so naturally the establishment is trying to kill him. And Trump supporters don’t seem to have that many illusions about various aspects of his essential character. One of them told me he’s “a junkyard dog.”

They think his character is equal to the moment.