At the moment, the Republican establishment is relevant to the presidential-nomination battle only as an epithet.
The fight for the Republican nomination isn’t so much a vicious brawl between the grass roots and the establishment as it is a bitter struggle between traditional conservatism and populism that few could have foreseen.
Conservatism has always had a populist element, encapsulated by the oft-quoted William F. Buckley Jr. line that he would rather be governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phone book than by the Harvard faculty. But the populism was tethered to, and in the service of, an ideology of limited-government constitutionalism.
The fight between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump is over whether that connection will continue to exist, and whether the conservatism (as represented by Cruz) or the populism (as represented by Trump) will be ascendant. Cruz did all he could as long as possible to accommodate Trump, but now that the fight between them is out in the open, the differences are particularly stark.
Cruz is a rigorous constitutionalist. He’s devoted much of his career to defending the Constitution and has argued numerous cases before the Supreme Court. Trump has certainly heard of the Constitution, but he may know even less about it than he knows about the Bible.
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