By this point even the most diehard supporter of Donald Trump has to be ready to admit one thing, if only in private moments as they stare into the bathroom mirror. No matter how much you may question the accuracy of polls or rebel against the liberal inclinations of the majority of media outlets, there is at least a very real chance that Donald Trump is on track to lose this election. (In fact, some authors have chosen to skip over the voting entirely and go straight to writing about the relationship between Speaker Ryan and President Hillary Clinton.) It’s not written in stone at this point and a major story could turn things around on a dime, but those prospects are dimming each day.
So let’s just say that Hillary Clinton wins. What does it mean for the future of the GOP? Will Donald Trump have effectively broken the party, leaving the Democrats with a free hand until some new political organization can grow up from the grassroots? That’s a prediction which has been circulating for a while, but it’s effectively deflated by Ben Domenech at The Federalist this week. What will happen to the GOP on the morning of November 9th? Nothing much, really.
What is likely to happen to the Republican Party in the event of a Donald Trump loss on November 8th is this: nothing will change.
Assume for the sake of argument that Trump loses by a fairly normal proportion of the electorate – that the House is held by Republicans, and the Senate is either held or the majority lost, but not badly. What will everyone’s incentives be in response to this?
For the elected Republicans, the party brass, and the consultant class, the incentive will be to do what they always do: circle the wagons, blame right-wingers and talk radio for sowing dissent and distrust, work to preserve all possible levers of power, and concentrate even more if possible. Reince Priebus is an effective fall guy – let’s rewrite the autopsy and move on from there.
Ben goes on from there to consider what will happen inside the various conservative think tanks and donor groups, coming to much the same conclusion. Not only will the right leaning ranks of American politics not crumble into dust, but the response will actually be both typical and predictable. There will be the usual rounds of finger pointing, blame laying and recrimination. The usual factions inside the party who have been tearing each other apart for a generation will continue to do so. And then they will all roll up their sleeves and get back to trying to best each other in the battle of the next round of primaries and mid-term elections.
This line of thinking is of a piece with the same ideas I’ve put forth regarding Trump’s effect on conservatism in general. We’ve been warned by the staff of the National Review and various other #NeverTrump outlets for months on end that Trump Must Lose because otherwise American conservatism will be effectively dead. This type of hysteria and hyperbole doesn’t serve anyone’s interests because it ignores one fundamental fact about American politics: Neither the President nor any other individual elected to any office defines conservatism, nor do office holders define the Republican Party.
George W. Bush defined neither conservatism nor the GOP. He was simply the guy who came out on top in the primary. Plenty of Republicans had buyer’s remorse after he’d been in office for a while and gotten his hands on healthcare and education, not to mention a rapidly swelling national debt under his watch. But he was the choice of a sufficient number of people in the primary who rolled the dice and took a chance on him. Even Ronald Reagan – arguably one of the bright stars in the conservative galaxy – didn’t define conservatism. He reflected what was glowing warmly in his supporters around the country.
Similarly, win or lose, Donald Trump doesn’t define the GOP nor the conservative movement. He’s been a reflection of growing unrest with the way the party is run and business as usual politics. If he wins, he will no doubt anger many, many Republican voters over the course of his tenure while others will be pleased with his work. If he loses then he will be one more candidate who failed to beat the combined strength of the Democratic Party and the media. But he doesn’t define any of you, and we’ll all be doing this same dance again four or eight years from now. If the party is changing it’s because its members are shifting in their preferences, not because Donald Trump is driving them off in some new direction with a whip.