This is not to say that a repudiation of Trump would quickly lead to a Republican rejection of Trumpism. The president’s use of economic distress, demographic transition and security threats to scapegoat migrants, Muslims and refugees found a deeper resonance among party regulars than I thought it would. Trump’s exploitation of rapid social change to fertilize evangelical Christians’ fears and harvest their support has been a signature success (though it has badly damaged the reputation of evangelicalism in the process).
A Trump defeat would at least begin a GOP debate on its ideological future. If Republicans lose control of the Senate, that debate will be more urgent. But most Republicans angling to be Trump’s political successor (see Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri and even former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley) are embracing key elements of Trumpism — without, presumably, the erratic megalomania.
The ideological carnage that Trump has wreaked on the American right is large and lasting. In 2016, he demonstrated that it was still possible to win in the electoral college with a message of white grievance. His partisans have secured nearly complete control of the structures of the Republican Party. And Trump’s performative prejudice has increased the boldness of bigots across the board.