FOR months the Republican Party has seemed more like a casting agency for pantomime characters than a serious political force. Its presidential primary race has been dominated by two men who have never held elected office. One is a bragadocious bully whose most celebrated idea is the construction of a “a beautiful wall” along the country’s southern border; the other is a Bible-thumping neurosurgeon who believes America is living in a “Gestapo” age and has a “psychopath” for a president. In the House of Representatives a small group of arch-conservatives, for whom compromise is apostasy, defenestrated their Speaker for refusing to shut down the government in order to stop public funding for Planned Parenthood, a health-care organisation that also provides abortions.
Yet in the past couple of weeks something has changed. Serious people are on the rise. Paul Ryan, the newly installed Speaker, is both widely admired among conservatives and known for his policy expertise. Marco Rubio, the junior senator from Florida, is climbing up the presidential primary polls, leading the field on prediction markets and picking up endorsements from other politicians and backing from donors apace. Plenty could still go wrong, but one year from election day, many Republican grandees have a new spring in their step. They reckon that a non-crazy candidate could become their party’s nominee. And with a plausible presidential candidate and strong leadership in Congress, a clean sweep in 2016—winning the White House and retaining control of both Houses of Congress—might be possible after all.