But doesn’t Trump represent a more basic challenge to the ideological underpinnings of the Republican Party? Yes, and it’s one that will be quickly and thoroughly consigned to the dustbin of history if the ticket goes down to ignominious defeat. Short of victory, the outcome most orthodox Republicans want most is to be able to blame defeat on Trump and cast a terrible anathema on anyone who utters his name with anything less than contempt for years to come. The silver lining of a Trump nomination that defies conservative ideology is that conservative ideology cannot be held responsible for making Hillary Clinton president.
A Cruz nomination and defeat would not have the same silver lining, though it would also be rationalized as attributable to the candidate’s high-profile advocacy of extremist tactics for advancing conservative ideology. He’d be cast as another Goldwater, when the times called for another Reagan. But there would still be no particular need for any “struggle for the soul of the Republican Party,” which could pick up right where it left off in 2013 with Reince Priebus’s “autopsy report” calling for a less threatening profile for conservatism.
Best of all for the GOP, it probably would not have to wait very long for a comeback. The more House seats it loses this November, the more House seats will be vulnerable to being recaptured by Republicans in 2018, when pro-Republican midterm turnout patterns and the near-universal phenomenon of the party controlling the White House losing House seats in midterms will all but guarantee some GOP gains, particularly if congressional Republicans recapitulate their Obama-era success in obstructing presidential leadership.