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Josh Marshall articulated a point today much better than I did yesterday:

The key is that the GOP primary electorate voted overwhelmingly for anti-establishment candidates. Overwhelmingly. Not just ‘anti-establishment’ but candidates who each in different ways staked their fortunes explicitly on massive turnouts of white voters. Kasich at this point is likely an accurate barometer of establishment, non-hard-right support. Paul Ryan didn’t run. But the Paul Ryan model candidates who did run got crushed. How does it go over if Trump gets denied, Cruz gets denied and the prize goes to a guy – at least the type of guy – who it is not too much to say got firmly rejected through the entire primary process? He’s a Rubio wrapped in a Bush inside a Scott Walker. I don’t deny that Ryan may be a more effective politician than any of those three. But he is the establishment and he is also a wholly owned subsidiary of the Koch Brothers. It is hard to imagine any scenario in which the substantive, expressed will of the GOP primary electorate was more thoroughly rejected at the convention meant to ratify it.

Agree with every word. The reason a Paul Ryan nomination seems so implausible to me—and again, I’m not putting it past the GOP, it just seems so suicidal—is that I think Ted Cruz is chameleonic enough to ease up on some of his extremism to become more acceptable to run-of-the-mill, non-hard-right Republicans. He’ll accept a certain dosage of establishment instruction to maneuver his way around Clinton in November. Is he a shoo-in? Not by a long shot. Polls show that Clinton beats Cruz fairly well, so he’s not like Kasich in that he’s not going to have too many Democratic converts. (Trump probably has a better chance to flip some Dems than Cruz does, if you can believe it.) But what Cruz has up his sleeve, what all Republicans have up their sleeves, is that he is not Trump. Trump being denied the nomination will be a relief to so many Republicans that I think a lot of them will settle for anyone who isn’t him. Whether that’s enough to defeat Clinton is another matter entirely, but I have my doubts that Cruz topping the Republican ticket will lead to a blowout in line with a ticket topped by Trump.

All this brings up another point I felt in my gut when Trump first announced his candidacy and started flapping his mouth, long before I started this blog. Marshall writes:

But let’s not forget the big picture. A Trump nomination is a genuinely catastrophic outcome for the GOP. The polls are now abundantly clear on that point. I don’t think many people still believe the always improbable notion that there is any substantial constituency of working class white Obama voters in the industrial midwest who Trump could pull into the GOP column. But again, the big picture: all the establishment dream scenarios – Kasich, Ryan, Romney, Generic Unicorn – are only marginally less catastrophic than Trump. Perhaps even worse.

All of the alternative scenarios are ones that – if we weren’t focusing on Trump – would seem clearly like catastrophic decisions.

The presence of Trump makes everyone else, even Cruz to some extent, appear normal. Whereas in 2012 I and every other Dem and liberal were trying hard to suppress visions of the havoc a Romney presidency would wreak, in 2016 Romney appears to be as much a Democrat as Martin O’Malley. It’s not true, of course—Romney was very far to the right no matter how much he tried to portray himself as a moderate—but Trump’s wild rhetoric masks the stances of his opponents.

I’m not one of those who contends that Trump’s a liberal or at least not a true conservative; he’s used a lot of right-wing talking points to foster support and would surely try to enact a lot of right-wing policies were he elected. What I doubt is how sincere he is about those positions, though if he were to act upon them it would be completely irrelevant. The point, though, is that because he’s so bombastic, so crude and loud and obnoxious and mortifying, that far-right religious zealot Ted Cruz is able to portray himself as a sane alternative, even though he’s in all likeliness more dangerous than Trump, because the sincerity of his hardline conservatism is not in question. John Kasich has gotten support from Democratic voters, partly as a protest vote against Trump, but partly too because he has marketed himself as a moderate, even though as I’ve pointed out he’s anything but.

Whether that will mean anything in this election remains to be seen. But if Clinton wins, I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s defeated in 2020 by a hard-right Republican who looks like someone’s dad and invokes the specter of Trump, reminding voters that he (because it’ll be a he) is so much more presentable than Trump.