The implications of Trump’s apparent downward lurch in the polls continue to become clear in all their luxurious complexity. Just yesterday I was on a radio show with various reporters and pundits talking about the last few days of the presidential campaign, and one interesting wrinkle was that there was not one but two #NeverTrump folk with quite different perspectives. Mona Charen of National Review kept emphasizing a claim that just about any pol (well, at least one of them: Marco Rubio) could have won this election easily while Trump is losing it. Another, Rick Wilson, who is on the team of independent conservative candidate Evan McMullin, argued that the GOP has so thoroughly sold its soul to a morally and ideologically reprehensible nominee that it may be time to create a new center-right party.
This argument is one that we haven’t heard in a while, since the Trump’s-not-electable argument wasn’t very effective when the mogul was within a couple of points of Hillary Clinton in the polls and occasionally seemed to have the momentum. But now that we’re down to the final month and Trump’s campaign seems incapable of mounting the kind of comeback he’d need to win — even if he manages to staunch the current bleeding, which isn’t entirely clear — the idea that Trump’s a stone loser is making a big comeback. And it’s obviously a less stressful take for lifelong Republicans than the conclusion that the GOP let itself be seduced by a reprehensible scoundrel with nothing but contempt for the party’s ancient principles.
Wilson is hardly the only conservative opinion-leader who’s making the case that the GOP needs a soul transplant, not just better candidates and clearer strategic thinking. Former Perry and Rubio staffer, and one of the GOP’s clearest thinkers on health-care policy, Avik Roy has been telling anyone who would listen that Trump exposed a racist strain in the Republican coalition that has been there all along and needs to be expunged before the party (or some successor) can be revived. Conservative foreign-policy maven Robert Kagan thinks any Trump supporter is by definition unqualified for a future leadership role in the GOP, which would leave an awfully small group of purge survivors in charge of the party.
What is most interesting about this back-and-forth argument is that it will complicate the post-Trump “struggle for the soul of the Republican Party” most are expecting if Trump loses. If #NeverTrumpers cannot even come to agreement on what the mogul represented, how can the party as a whole — with its rabid Trump supporters, it’s Trumpism-without-Trump faction, its Reformocons, its movement-conservative commissars, and its Establishment RINOs — all come to grips with the GOP’s choices going forward? The only thing more traumatic might be the maneuvering and rationalizing we’d see if Trump actually won.