Which brings us to an even more crucial difference between the Ford and Bush situations and the present. Both Reagan and Buchanan represented the future of the GOP when they declared themselves against the sitting presidents, both of whom were throwbacks. For Republican voters in 1976, Reagan promised an end to the moderate paternalism of the Nixon years; here, finally, was a more telegenic version of Barry Goldwater, someone who would usher in a new era of “principled conservatives,” a man who could reach beyond the party base to Democratic evangelicals in the South. By the time he was re-elected in 1984, the party had been remade in his image. Likewise, in 1992 Buchanan was already announcing the great themes — opposition to globalized capitalism and free trade, the importance of winning over working-class voters who did not see themselves as a part of the established conservative movement, above all, the great “culture war” against the forces of liberalism — that would eventually carry Trump to victory.
By contrast, Weld, Sanford, Kasich, and Flake all belong to the Republican party’s past. They are out of touch, not only with where the GOP is at present but with its future. Nothing would please them more than destroying the man whom they blame for their defeat. But Trump did not invent widespread dissatisfaction with fusionist conservatism, just as Reagan did not create it single-handedly. #NeverTrumpers are promising a return to a consensus that voters have already rejected, not only in 2016 but in 2012 and 2008 as well.