Now even Donald Trump is taking himself seriously. He's trying now to be colorful without being reckless, careful not to be rude when he doesn't have to be, and playing less the showboat and more like someone going one for the team.
He's still Donald Trump, and he still hasn't been to the barber shop. He can't put a leash on his arrogance, and he still can't resist taking cruel (and telling) shots at Jeb Bush, but the Jeb is a shrinking target. Throwing darts at him is becoming an indulgence.
The Donald signed the loyalty oath Thursday demanded by Reince Priebus, the chairman of the party, promising not to run as a third-party candidate if he doesn't get the Republican nomination. "I just wanted fairness from the Republican Party," he saidThursday. "I will be totally pledging my allegiance to the Republican Party and the conservative principles for which it stands."
Such a decision was a no-brainer. If he had declined it would have spoken volumes about how he, as a front-runner rendering the other candidates as mutts chasing the meat wagon, in his gut measures his chances in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Besides, Mr. Priebus and the rest of the Republican establishment can't do anything about it if the Donald comes up on a burning bush by the side of the road later and changes his mind. He would offend only the establishment and the party's prospects in the election, but not his considerable ego.
Now that he's the runaway front-runner he has to act like one. Success is the curse of insurgents. The successful insurgent has to remember "who brung him to the dance,"and he can't run against himself, tempting as it may be to try. Two new public-opinion polls show just how successful the improbable Mr. Trump continues to be.
One of them, a survey by Monmouth University of New Jersey, finds him polling nationally 30 percent , up 4 points, and leading in every ideological category. He's the choice of the Tea Party, of the "very" conservative, of the "somewhat" conservative, of liberals, men, women, young people and old people. It's a remarkable performance.
Even more remarkable, the runner-up, though distant at 18 percent, is Ben Carson, another outsider gaining on everyone. The message to the party regulars, who measure every word and whose milk-toast plea is "vote Republican, we're not as bad as you think."
It's hard to get anyone to throw his hat in the air over that, when many of the people in the weeds, the jonson grass and grassroots think establishment Republicans are indeed just "as bad as you think." These voters think the party won the lottery in 2012 and 2014 on their nickel, and they're in a rage over the theft. The insurgents are telling the Republican establishment, loud and clear: "You stink, so get out of the way."
The collapse of Jeb Bush tells this story in full, plain and blunt and with neither tact nor tenderness. The onetime governor of Florida promised that he would mount "a different kind of campaign." He would be the happy warrior (apparently no one reminded him of what happened to Al Smith, the original happy warrior). He had never liked the grit and grime of take-no-prisoners politics, anyway, and he just wouldn't be part of that. He's down to the single digits in the public-opinion polls, far from the sound of the guns, safe from grit and grime. He forgot Leo Durocher's famous warning that nice guys finish last. Civility is nice, but not this year.
Grit and grime is the natural home of Donald Trump, who boasts of his prowess at "the art of the deal." He's a veteran of conflict with construction unions, banks, investors and government bureaucrats who think it's their job to stand in the way of anyone trying to get something done.
Bluster is more effective than bonhomie in these wars, and to the astonishment of everyone and to the terror of the regulars this year it works in politics, too.
Ben Carson has the surgeon's assurance that he's got the answers and everyone should give him room. (Operating room nurses joke that "the difference between G0D and a surgeon is that "G0D doesn't think he's a surgeon.") Mr. Carson is selling the same elixir the Donald peddles, with just a touch more sugar to make it go down, and his elixir is flying off the shelves in his shop, too.
It's still difficult to see how either the Donald or the doctor can get the delegates to actually win the nomination, and actual delegates, not polling numbers, is what the race is all about. But nothing seems beyond imagination this year, when the establishment in both parties in taking a licking.
Hillary's aides, if not the old girl herself, are already taking the Fifth. This is what makes politics the most entertaining game in town.