Symposium: Has Trump killed the GOP?

Did Trump kill the GOP? He might have saved it.
Jacob Heilbrunn is editor of the National Interest

Donald Trump definitely represents a dire threat to the future of the GOP elite, but not to the Republican Party. In fact, he may be the only candidate who can save the faltering contraption from itself. Far from being an outlier, he offers a chance for the party to rebrand itself. His most recent tiff with Fox News, where he refused to heed its debate ukase that he submit himself to the questioning of Megyn Kelly, is simply his latest swipe at the Politburo that has come to control the GOP. Probably only Trump can break with the political correctness that surrounds the GOP and return it to older, mainstream Republican traditions in the mold of Theodore Roosevelt or Richard Nixon. Whether it’s foreign or domestic policy, the establishment candidates are retreads who piously mouth the shibboleths of the discredited George W. Bush administration: A return to a crusading foreign policy. Stepped up national surveillance at home. Massive increases in defense spending. And an even more punitive approach to social issues, including a ban on abortion in the case of rape or incest. This is supposed to be mainstream moderation?

Trump’s detractors on the right fear his unpredictability: The Wall Street Journal editorial page complained on Thursday that “on politics and policy he is a leap into the known unknown.” Well, yes. It’s precisely Trump’s lubricity that is allowing him to transcend the GOP’s parochial ideological battles that would almost certainly lead the party to defeat in November. With his penchant for making a deal, Trump might well veer toward the middle once the primaries are over—or even before then. There’s no real evidence that he’s a true-blue conservative—or much of anything other than a shrewdly calculating and pragmatic opportunist. Ted Cruz, by contrast, would take the party to the right and also pursue a more realpolitik foreign policy, but he wouldn’t smash the crockery like Trump.

Here, as Trump might say, is the deal: Looked at as a business, the GOP is an enterprise that has been so badly managed that it needs to go into receivership before its current management team drives it into Chapter 11. And if Trump does win the nomination, don’t expect the party to rebel or engage in civil war. Instead, most of his critics will docilely line up and say they’ve been there all along.