Never Trump vs. Trump forever: Two ambitious Republicans fight to shape the future of the GOP

One by one, the #NeverTrump dominoes are falling. Having denounced Donald Trump in the harshest possible terms on the campaign trail, Marco Rubio now tells us he will release his delegates to Trump and that he will cheer him on in his race against Hillary Clinton. Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House and conservative darling, has made his distaste for Trump plain. For weeks after it became clear that Trump would be the Republican presidential nominee, Ryan maintained that he wasn’t ready to pledge his support. But now, in an op-ed in his hometown paper, Ryan says he will indeed be voting for Trump this fall. Why now? Ryan explains that he’s had long conversations with Trump about the policy agenda he intends to introduce in the House, and he’s concluded that as president, Trump “would help us turn the ideas in this agenda into laws to help improve people’s lives.” In other words, Ryan wants us to believe that he’s not the one who has caved—that rather, it’s Trump who’s had to get on board with the Ryan agenda. We’ll see if Trump feels the same way.

It’s easy to condemn erstwhile anti-Trumpers for clamoring to find a seat on the “Trump train,” with its buttery leather seats and gold lamé interiors. But let’s acknowledge that ambitious Republicans are in a tough spot. If you’re older and on your way out of elected office, you can condemn Trump all you want and ride off into the sunset with your dignity intact. If you’re not ready to call it quits, however, there are a ton of questions for which you have no good answers.

Say you’re a young-ish Reaganite, and you dream of winning the White House some day. For years, you’ve devoted your public life to passing the ever-more-exacting ideological purity tests that have defined the conservative movement in recent years. And now you’re utterly confused. You know that Trump’s rise has upended all kinds of assumptions about what Republican primary voters actually care about. But that doesn’t tell you what you can safely assume going forward. Could it be that yesterday’s conservative orthodoxies are now completely irrelevant? Is there no longer any need to kowtow to Wall Street megadonors?