And as for returning to a pre-Trump style of GOP politicking, is it even possible? The Reagan-era three-legged stool has gone wobbly, perhaps beyond repair. Many Republican standbys are no longer viable. Railing against government handouts doesn’t exactly work right now. No one wants to do a new Mideast war, and the extant ones are old hat. Social conservatism ain’t what it used to be. So complete is the public evolution on gay marriage, for example, it’s hard to believe the Supreme Court legalized it nationwide a mere six years ago.
Framing all this is the uncertainty over Trump himself. Is he coming back? Will he really run again? Must the sycophancy continue? If the party dumps the ex-president, it risks losing voters. If it retains him as its leader, it risks losing voters. The huge institutional hurdles to launching a viable third party may be the only thing keeping the GOP intact.
The resultant tumult is new wine rollicking in an old wineskin. It could explode at any moment. It’s entertaining, and Americans want to be entertained. We’re used to looking right for this sort of entertainment, anyway, trained by the last five years of Trump and, more generally, the different ways right and left handle themselves and are handled in American public life.