Former Utah governor Mike Leavitt is a card-carrying member of the Republican establishment. He served in two different senior roles in the George W. Bush administration and as a senior adviser to Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign. And he has absolutely no idea what to make of Donald Trump's rise and the party that is fueling it.
"I keep waiting for a reality I recognize to show up, and it just hasn't," Leavitt told Andrea Mitchell on her MSNBC program Monday. He later repeated himself: "This is a very different race. As I said, it's not a reality that most of us recognize."
Throughout the interview with Mitchell, Leavitt's bafflement comes through loud and clear. Leavitt, like the rest of the Republican establishment, simply has no idea (a) what is going on with his party or (b) how to solve the Trump problem. (You can -- and should -- watch all of Leavitt's interview.)
This, at its heart, is the key to understanding how Trump has gone as far as he has. The Republican political establishment was broadly clueless about how far it had moved away from a large chunk of its base, and how alienated that base felt about Washington GOP politicians. Trump innately grasped that anger, frustration and resentment -- and fashioned a campaign around it.
Leavitt also diagnoses why the idea that the Republican establishment could stop Trump was always deeply misguided. "I think what we're actually seeing is a quite profound change in the role that parties play in the lives of people," he told Mitchell. "Parties still control the mechanism, but they don't control the outcomes, and people now don't depend on parties for their information. They don't depend on parties to tell them who to vote for. They don't depend on parties for the way they interact."
He's exactly right. If people depended on the party to tell them what to do and whom to support, Jeb Bush would already be the Republican nominee. What Trump has done is shown that not only do you not need the establishment behind you, but you can succeed with voters even if the establishment is adamantly opposed to you.
Trump's circumstances are somewhat unique in that he is a celebrity and a very wealthy one at that. That celebrity has allowed him to end-run all of the hoops that candidates have traditionally had to jump through. He can drive the narrative of the race via his Twitter account. Or his many cable TV appearances. What Mike Leavitt -- or anyone else who is part of the GOP establishment -- thinks or says about Trump is immaterial to that conversation.
Trump is the leading edge of the end of political parties as we currently think of them. And the political parties have no idea what to do.