As the front-runners in the Republican presidential campaign vie to portray themselves as outsiders, they are fighting just as fiercely to paint each other as close to the party’s establishment.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who has highlighted what he calls rival Donald Trump’s “New York values” and labeled him a liberal masquerading as a conservative, is now trying to tag Trump as the favorite of the party elite with less than two weeks until the first nominating contest in Iowa on Feb. 1…

Cruz, who has long reveled in his image as a Washington outsider, often brags that he’s disliked by Democrats and Republicans alike — a fact that Trump said would hurt the country.

“It’s one thing to be like a tough guy, but you’ve got to be able to get along a little with people,” said Trump. “You can’t be so strident where not one Republican senator supports you.”

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said Thursday there’s nothing wrong with a little deal-making to get things done.

“You know what? There’s a point at which: Let’s get to be a little establishment,” he told about 1,500 people at a rally at the Las Vegas South Point Resort and Casino. “We’ve got to get things done folks, OK? Believe me, don’t worry. We’re going to make such great deals.”…

“Guys like Ted Cruz will never make a deal because he’s a strident guy,” Trump told a crowd of about 1,500 people at a rally at the Las Vegas South Point Resort and Casino…

He pointed to the famous relationship between President Ronald Reagan talks with Democrat House Speaker Tip O’Neill in the 1980s. “That’s what the country’s about really, isn’t it?”

“We’re seeing something remarkable happening in this Republican primary,” [Ted Cruz] told reporters on Wednesday. “Right now, the Washington establishment is abandoning Marco Rubio, they’ve made the assessment that Marco can’t win this race, and the Washington establishment is rushing over to support Donald Trump. We’re seeing that happen every day, and Mr. Trump is welcoming that support.”…

“Well,” Cruz said, “I don’t think there are a whole lot of Republicans who think the problem with Republican leadership is that they’re unwilling to make deals with Democrats … and Mr. Trump’s pitch to the Washington establishment is he’s a dealmaker. He’ll go and cut a deal with Chuck Schumer and Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi and those deals will do exactly what John Boehner and Mitch McConnell have done, continue the failed big-government policies of this administration, continue the cronyism, continue the corporate welfare, continue Washington picking winners and losers.”

In private, some veteran conservative Republicans have been reaching out to Trump. And Trump himself called the ultimate establishment figure in Washington, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, for a talk late last year.

“If it came down to Trump or Cruz, there is no question I’d vote for Trump,” said former New York mayor and 2008 presidential candidate Rudolph W. Giuliani, who has not endorsed a candidate. “As a party, we’d have a better chance of winning with him, and I think a lot of Republicans look at it that way.”…

“Between Trump and Cruz, it’s not even close,” said Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), a longtime House moderate who has not endorsed a candidate. “Cruz isn’t a good guy, and he’d be impossible as president. People don’t trust him. And regardless of what your concern is with Trump, he’s pragmatic enough to get something done. I also don’t see malice in Trump like I see with Cruz.”…

“With Trump, hey, it’s just a deal,” said Alex Castellanos, a longtime Republican strategist. “The primary’s one deal, that’s done. If he were to be the nominee, the next deal’s a general [election]. You can see him saying, ‘We had to do what we had to do to win the primary, but now’s the general, and we’ve got to beat Hillary.’ You can see him pivot on a dime.

If Donald Trump handily wins Iowa, he’ll likely receive an endorsement from at least one Republican governor, and those two events could set him on a course to become the “inevitable” Republican nominee, Charles Krauthammer said tonight.

“If Cruz loses Iowa, Trump wins convincingly, I think all he will need at that point is to have a single current establishment figure, meaning a sitting governor or a sitting senator endorse him,” Krauthammer said on Thursday’s Special Report. “If you get somebody today from the so-called establishment, who endorses him, I think it becomes a flood. At that point the dam breaks and you will get a rush of other establishment figures who will rally around him.”

“And that could be the point at which he becomes inevitable as the nominee,” he added.

“Cruz has rubbed a lot of people the wrong way in D.C., whereas Trump hasn’t, and Trump up until this year was pretty much a player,” said Craig Shirley, a longtime GOP strategist and charter member of the establishment. “Ultimately, the Washington establishment deep down — although they find Trump tacky or distasteful — they think that they ultimately can work with him. Deep down, a lot of people think it is an act.”…

[T]here is a (quite reasonable) assumption that Trump has just been putting on a show the last few months, that he doesn’t actually believe the off-the-wall fascism coming out of his mouth, let alone plan to follow through on it. That he’s spoken about tracking a more moderate path in the general election only affirms the suspicion that he’s a man with whom you can do business…

Among some seasoned Republicans, the animus towards Cruz is so strong that a schadenfreudian hope has begun to emerge. In a contest against Trump, the thinking goes, it might be best for Cruz to win the nomination, only to suffer a lopsided general election defeat, proving once and for all the true limits of his appeal. It is taken for granted that the party under Cruz cannot win. And, in Washington, life will go on.

“I’m rooting for Hillary,” said one half-joking somebody in the GOP establishment. “She can’t win a mandate, so we hold the House and don’t get slaughtered in the Senate. We will have a great midterm in 2018 running against her,” he said, requesting anonymity for obvious reasons. “We are a great opposition party.”

If Donald Trump as president of the United States is the ghost that’s stalking Davos, many among the global elite hope he’ll be banished by spring. Others see that as wishful thinking

The prospect of Trump in the White House is ratcheting up anxiety among the 2,500 business and political leaders gathered at the Swiss ski resort for the annual World Economic Forum. With less than two weeks before voting in primaries gets under way and Trump in the Republican Party lead, those who fear a rise in protectionism and economic mismanagement are speaking out against the billionaire property developer.

“Unfortunately I do think that if there were to be a Trump administration the casualty would likely be trade,” said Eric Cantor, a former Republican House Majority Leader and now vice chairman of Moelis & Company. “That’s a very serious prospect for the world.”…

“I am amazed at Davos about how many people are taking Trump as seriously as they are,” said Martin Sorrell, WPP’s chief executive. “I think it doesn’t matter who the Republicans put up, I think Hillary will win.”

Now the assumption some Republicans might be making is that Trump would create a more unpredictable race against Hillary Clinton: If it’s predictable Republican/conservative vs. unpredictable, go with the unpredictable. But looking at simply by the numbers, Trump would start the general election in a deeper hole than Cruz — mainly because Trump is already so well defined.

Yet there’s another reason why GOP establishment types might be rooting for Trump over Cruz right now: If you don’t stop Cruz in Iowa, it’s going to be hard for the establishment to stop either of them. Think about it — Cruz carries Iowa, and that could catapult him to second place in New Hampshire, while Trump would remain in the catbird’s seat in New Hampshire. That scenario could freeze out the establishment candidates like Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and John Kasich. But what if Trump beats Cruz in Iowa? Well, there’s more of an opening for a Rubio/Bush/Christie/Kasich to finish second in New Hampshire, strengthening the establishment going into South Carolina and beyond. Of course, if Trump wins BOTH Iowa and New Hampshire, it could be game over for the GOP nomination. But on paper, there appears to be more of an opening for the establishment if Cruz DOESN’T win in Iowa.

But the reason I’ve been especially skeptical about Trump for most of the election cycle isn’t listed above. Nor is it because I expected Trump to spontaneously combust in national polls. Instead, I was skeptical because I assumed that influential Republicans would do almost anything they could to prevent him from being nominated…

But so far, the party isn’t doing much to stop Trump. Instead, it’s making such an effort against Cruz…

It’s the type of coordinated, multifront action that seems right out of the “The Party Decides.” If, like me, you expected something like this to happen to Trump instead of Cruz, you have to revisit your assumptions. Thus, I’m now much less skeptical of Trump’s chances of becoming the nominee

Instead, it may be that Republicans think of Cruz as the more immediate threat, and then plan to turn around and attack Trump later. But that’s a high-degree-of-difficulty caper to pull off. For one thing, Trump, who’s in a much better position in the polls than Cruz in states after Iowa, could rack up several wins in a row if he takes the Hawkeye State.

Just as important, there are few signs that Republicans have much of a strategy for whom to back apart from Trump.

In this environment, party elites don’t hold the sway they once did. They seem to realize it, too, with strikingly few elected officials offering endorsements so far. Mr. Cruz has sometimes reveled in party leaders’ disdain for him — a stance that would have been fatal not so long ago.

Perhaps just as important, he has been able to raise large sums of money despite his hostile relationship with much of the party. “He has succeeded in building a robust campaign organization,” my colleague Nate Cohn has written, “buoyed by fund-raising tallies of the sort we generally haven’t seen from anti-establishment, conservative candidates.”

One factor is that some Republican elites have become radicalized in similar ways to the Republican base. Another is that elites who disagree with the party establishment can probably have a greater influence than in the past. The rise of inequality has created more deep-pocketed potential conservative donors, while the loosening of campaign-finance rules has made it easier for those donors to give large sums…

The invisible primary is important, and it will remain important in future elections. But even if Mr. Cruz and Mr. Trump ultimately lose, their success shows how politics occasionally changes. Large, unhappy portions of the Republican party have drifted from the establishment and grabbed some power from it. The past, as a result, is a less reliable guide to the future than it once was.

Movement conservatives favor smaller government and reducing taxes for all income levels, free trade and ending industry-specific tax breaks — derided as “crony capitalism,” and a major overhaul of entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security to reduce projected long-term deficit spending. Populists are suspicious of entitlement reform, wary of free trade agreements, open to hikes in taxes and the minimum wage and fine with industry tax breaks — at least if they protect local jobs.

For doctrinaire conservatives and their allied groups, these differences haven’t matter much, because only they satisfied the populists’ desire to vote against the so-called Republican establishment. But Trump’s command of the Republican primary campaign has given them an alternative that better matches their worldview. Tea Party heroine Sarah Palin’s endorsement of Trump made plain this week just how stark their differences are on key issues, and how fragile their political marriage really is…

The fight for votes in Iowa by Cruz and Trump is temporarily obscuring the longstanding internecine war going on between the governing and insurgent wings of the GOP. But some veteran Republican operatives can’t help but chuckle at the predicament conservatives find themselves in. They have spent years accusing so-called establishment Republicans of being insufficiently conservative. Now, they’re facing similar charges of heresy from the populist wing.

“If ‘conservative populist’ means a really angry older white voter who dislikes Obama … but has absolutely no ideological underpinnings, then I guess that term would apply to Trump and his followers,” said a Republican strategist who has advised both insurgent and establishment-aligned GOP candidates.

The irony of Cruz’s position now is that, despite all his outsider branding, he is not getting savaged by the establishment. Sure, fellow senators are looking for ways to shiv him and Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad wants him to lose, but they aren’t his biggest worry.

It is Trump who calls him a hypocrite and a liar. It is Trump who is hitting him on his belated disclosure of a Goldman Sachs loan. It is Trump who says he’s a nasty guy and maniac with a temperament problem. And it is Trump, of course, who constantly raises doubts about his eligibility to serve as president.

If you guessed a key event in the nomination fight would be the “othering” of the most potent tea party conservative in the country by a billionaire businessman with a long trail of liberal positions and a history of praising President Barack Obama—well, then, you forecast the GOP race perfectly.

In short, Cruz is getting savaged by a segment of the anti-establishment, although Cruz takes every opportunity to portray himself as the victim of the machinations of dastardly political insiders. The reality is that the establishment is sitting on its hands, agonizing over whom it loathes least, Trump or Cruz, while the fight between populism and conservatism rages.

Though Cruz has spent his career in the Senate in the opposition, as president, he’d actually be in a position to enact laws. House Speaker Paul Ryan has argued in favor of a broad conservative policy agenda, and it’s much closer to the general policy preferences of Cruz than to the bombastic boasts of Trump.

Though they may disagree on the art of the politically possible, ideologically, both Ryan and Cruz share a commitment to the “three-legged stool” vision of conservatism on economics, social issues and national security advanced by Ronald Reagan. Trump, on the other hand, has no ideological compass, and would be happy to embrace liberalism if it advanced him personally…

There is no good reason why those who want to win elections or advance conservative policy would prefer Trump. So, that leaves two possibilities.

One is that the establishment despises Cruz so deeply, that they’d rather blow an election with somebody who would detonate the Republican coalition and work against their stated policy goals. Or, alternatively, they’ve actually been lying about wanting to advance conservatism, and would prefer a Trump — somebody who is willing to cut deals with lobbyists, who wouldn’t reform entitlements, who would protect subsidies and who would be willing to raise taxes. Neither possibility is particularly flattering.

The most amazing thing about this election is that the Republican Establishment is unwilling and unable to do the things necessary for its own survival. A Kasich will alienate social conservatives and fiscal conservatives. A Bush will alienate much of the base over legacy concerns. A Christie will alienate gun voters and social conservatives. Rubio alienates fewer voters than the others, but the Establishment just does not seem to get it.

This is like watching a slow walk to suicide. As someone who often cheers on the conservative outsiders, I am somewhat relishing watching the Establishment march off the cliff. But I am also baffled. The establishment of the Republican Party has prided itself on beating conservatives, often by encouraging the conservative field to divide itself while the leadership of the party rallies around just one candidate.

This time, the outsiders are beating the insiders at their own game and as an interested observer, it is kinda glorious to watch the confusion and chaos while seeing the obvious, logical answer none of the guys in D.C. can see or, more likely, refuse to see.

I would gladly back any of the Republican candidates, from Trump to Christie, but I am also a real minority on that issue. These Republicans in Washington are so used to thinking they have it in the bag, they just might not know the warning signs to realize they don’t this time.