by Jules Witcover
Donald Trump's behavior on the campaign trail grows ever more outrageous, the time is long overdue for leading Republican establishment figures, past and present, to speak out in unison before their Grand Old Party is irreparably compromised.
Mr. Trump's latest egregious comments and mockery of a New York Times reporter with a physical disability go beyond the pale even for him. He wasn't satisfied with earlier disparaging the looks of rival presidential candidate Carly Fiorina ("Look at that face! Would anyone vote that?").
His latest target is a man with severe malfunction of his arms, which Mr. Trump for good measure appeared to be mimicking. He also mocked the reporter's employer as "rapidly going down the tubes," even as the Times editorial board continues to pummel him for his bullying.
The current Republican National Committee chairman, Reince Priebus of Wisconsin, is an ineffective milquetoast who earlier went hat in hand to Mr. Trump, urging him to tone down his reckless rhetoric. He got a quick brushoff from the self-declared great man. Of the 2016 candidates, only long-shot Ohio Gov. John Kasich has risked undertaking an open Stop Trump ad campaign.
But there is one Republican establishment club that has not been heard from that, if it spoke out as one, might yet start to bring concerned Republicans to their senses. That is the unofficial former presidential nominees' fraternity — the five most recent GOP standard-bearers in the last seven elections from 1988 through 2012: the two President Bushes, Bob Dole, John McCain and Mitt Romney.
The father and the brother of current presidential aspirant Jeb Bush have let their floundering kinsmen carry the ball against Mr. Trump on the stump and in the Republican debates. But in league with Messrs. Dole, McCain and Romney, they might yet have considerable influence in mobilizing more moderate party leaders (admittedly, a vanishing breed) to sound the alarm of growing GOP irrelevance.
Under the seemingly hypnotic spell of Mr. Trump and the more soft-spoken nonpolitician Ben Carson, the party threatens to head over a dangerous cliff of amateurism fueled by anger, hate or just plain dissatisfaction in a divided federal government.
The most recent Republican standard-bearers all had to cope with the emergence of ultraconservative factions unwilling to cooperate with moderates who once saw the imperative of working across party lines. But the schism within the GOP has become even deeper and more dysfunctional, especially now in the Republican-controlled Congress.