Old-guard Republicans can comfort themselves with the thought that as long as the hard right keeps nominating figures like Moore—or Paul Nehlen, the one-time primary challenger to Paul Ryan who is now known for dabbling in anti-Semitism—they will keep losing. But that’s only half of the story: the other half is that the Republican old guard shows no sign of winning back any of the hearts and minds that have been lost to the populist right. The voters themselves, not just the candidates, have different commitments today: opposition to free trade, for example, has been steadily growing among the Republican base. Outside of Utah, where he now hopes to run for Senate, this is not Mitt Romney’s party anymore.
The future may not belong to Moore or Nehlen, but it doesn’t belong to Romney or Ryan, either. And after what promises to be a bloody midterm reckoning, the GOP will be one step closer to whatever its next iteration will be. President Trump is in position to shape the party’s destiny. Will he take the chance to do so in 2018?