There’s a bit of a hope among political professionals, particularly among those who oppose Donald Trump and what he represents, that there will be a silver lining to a crushing defeat: Republicans will learn from their mistakes and change the party for the better. The problem with this theory is not that Republicans won’t learn lessons, but that different Republicans will take much different lessons from a loss. In the end, the same forces that propelled Trump to the nomination are going to prevent the GOP from reforming in the wake of his loss.
The idea that the GOP will change rests on the assumption that everybody will blame the same factors for defeat and that there’s a party apparatus in place that could then make sure that the party doesn’t repeat those mistakes. Neither of these are true. After a Trump loss, there will be Republicans who say that the GOP needs to be more inclusive, both in terms of rhetoric and policy, and point toward the need for a massive change on issues — immigration being the most notable (liberal Greg Sargent floated this possibility in the context of a potential Trump loss in the red state of Arizona). There will be others who will say that the party needs to focus more on policy, moving away from an emphasis on marginal tax rates toward policies that appeal to working class whites who gravitated toward Trumpism during the primaries. There will be conservatives who argue that Republican leadership is to blame, for sowing the seeds of distrust among the base that fueled Trump’s rise. Meanwhile, others will blame conservative outside groups for creating that distrust, and destroying institutions that in previous years would have been a bulwark against Trumpism.