The Republican problem no one knows how to solve

This also means that the only thing that could lead to better outcomes for the country and the party would be a fundamental shift in sensibility and temperament on the part of Republican voters. What might — even hypothetically — produce such a sea-change?

Conventional wisdom among NeverTrump pundits and political consultants holds that a serious drubbing this year could, if paired with repeats over the next few election cycles, lead to a rethinking motivated by self-interest. For precedent, these prognosticators point to the Democratic Party’s three drubbings in the 1980s and its subsequent shift to the center-left with Bill Clinton’s victorious presidential candidacy in 1992. Perhaps some serious losses this year and beyond would disabuse today’s Republican voters of their belief that far-right provocation is the surest path to victory and convince them of the wisdom of circumspection instead.

Maybe. Though this assumes Republican voters are primarily motivated by self-interest rather than raw animus and the entertainment value of nastiness. It also assumes that such voters are reasoning on the basis of facts and evidence. Some Republicans obviously are. But this is also a party led by a man who routinely suggests that the severity of the country’s public health crisis is a function not of how many people who are sick or how many have died but of how many COVID-19 tests have been administered. It’s also a party whose rank-and-file members have turned the refusal to wear protective masks in public during the worst pandemic in a century into a gesture of political defiance. So let’s just say I’m skeptical that Republicans are inclined to discipline their reasoning by tying it too closely to the contours and constraints of reality.