A loose cannon is a dicey, dynamic-changing proposition on the deck of a storm-tossed ship.
Doubt me? Just ask Victor Hugo.
"A cannon that breaks its moorings suddenly becomes some strange, supernatural beast. It is a machine transformed into a monster," he wrote in his novel "Ninety-Three" before introducing this scene: "The carronade, hurled forward by the pitching of the vessel, made a gap in this crowd of men and crushed four at the first blow; then sliding back and shot out again as the ship rolled, it cut in two a fifth unfortunate."
Why, it's almost as though Hugo was describing Donald Trump's effect on the Republican presidential race. Trump, of course, is the untethered cannon. And the poor hapless swabs? The party's lesser candidates, those who said, hey, everyone else is running, why not me?
Trump's entrance has dramatically changed the race's dynamic. A month ago, the question was this: Who in this field will emerge as the real challenger to Bush? The new question: Who is best positioned to stop the GOP's pugnacious pied piper?
That's not to say that Trump has a strong chance of becoming the party's nominee, mind you. But early on, he's clearly found the sweet spot with the GOP's nativists and knuckleheads, which could keep him in the race until the field narrows to half a handful of serious candidates, and fragmented primary voters start to coalesce.
Space prohibits a consideration of the GOP's entire gaggle of candidates, but the prospective Trump Slayer certainly isn't either Rick Perry or Scott Walker, both of whom are struggling to demonstrate that they have the necessary gravitas for the job. Taking his cue from the fashion world, Perry has opted to accessorize, donning a pair of smart-looking spectacles. Walker, like a struggling student, is relying on remedial cram sessions with public-policy experts. Neither approach has yet delivered the desired results.
Nor will it be Rand Paul, who has a devoted but limited following. Or Rick Santorum, who had his 15 minutes of fame in the last campaign. Or either Chris Christie or Bobby Jindal, both of whom are seeking a political promotion based on state performances that, were they private-sector CEOs, would more likely get them fired. Nor is it Marco Rubio, who acts like a junior varsity player. And any question to which the answer is Ted Cruz is a strange inquiry indeed.
But the need for an antidote to Trump's asininity should bolster those who have demonstrated seriousness of purpose and whom one can actually imagine as president.
That's good news for Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, and John Kasich, the current governor of Ohio, two men who have been successful swing-state leaders.
When it comes to Bush, dislike of dynasty or distrust of the establishment favorite should diminish in the face of worries about the damage Trump is doing to the Republican brand. Meanwhile, for those Thump Trump voters who remain inveterately opposed to Bush, Kasich may well start to look better.
As for the others hoping for a breakthrough?
Well, as Hugo could tell them, fate just isn't kind to those struggling to find their footing on a pitching deck. Not when there's a loose cannon in their vicinity, anyway.