But Trump, of course, is no white-shoe Sanders. He’s simply a man who recognizes, at a gut level, that many Republican voters have largely given up much hope for liberty and prosperity, doubling all their emotional capital down on security. Hillary Clinton is the queen of the pro-super-rich left, but she’s also the undisputed master of American political conventionalism. That gives Trump a lot of room, and when he sees an opening, he takes it.
For Republicans preparing for life after Trump, this is the rub: Instead of supplying a crisper ideological picture of what works and what doesn’t, this sort of a Trump loss to Clinton — in which he runs as a tough-talking centrist if not an outright liberal hawk — would lay bare just how coreless the established party has become. Republicans have long understood that excommunicating reactionaries like the John Birchers allows them to close ranks and market themselves as the respectable right. That’s why they’ve hoped that Trump will play to type. But if he shifts in the general election to run as more of a radical strongman than a reactionary one, he’ll leave Republicans picking up the pieces to wonder just who’s in the market for a respectable right anymore.