If the GOP elites had been wise, they’d have found a way to buy Donald Trump out of a race he had apparently never originally intended or expected to win. Barring that, if had been strong, they would have refused to make him the nominee, if necessary by blatantly changing the convention rules, outraging their voters, and losing the election. That might have meant Trump was a hurricane that would blow over. Milder elements might have prevailed in the long run. It would have been a leadership move which would have clearly stated what it meant to be a Republican. It also would have risked many downballot losses when furious Trump supporters stayed home, and it would have required an act of coordination, self-sacrifice, and long-range thinking. Republican leadership have demonstrated they are not capable of those virtues. The party that could have stopped Trump would not have generated him in the first place. Instead, Bill Kristol has made an incredibly lame attempt at putting up a total unknown, National Review writer David French, as an independent candidate.
What is happening to the Republican party reminds me of what happened to French elites during their revolution. War and poverty had left the people desperate. The elites argued with each other while famine swept across the land and the nation faced unsustainable debt. Taxes could not be raised – that was the one condition on which the aristocrats could agree not to agree. They were the Grover Norquist supporters of their age. King Louis XVI was a passive and indecisive blob, unable and unwilling to force them to face reality. When it became clear that the country teetered on ruin, he was forced to call a constitutional convention. And that was the beginning of the end of that system of government.
A weak king, foolish aristocrats, important national choices that must be made and yet will not be made, the ruling groups too selfish and distrustful of each other to make the necessary sacrifices even to keep their power: all this created cracks in the social edifice. Water seeped in. It steadily washed away order and respect for accepted authorities. The tides of chaos pried the cracks wider and wider in the absence of good-enough leadership. Emotions gained force in the face of worsening economic pain. Strong leadership that would do the necessary was the only antidote, but it became less and less possible, until one day the structure collapsed and the waters flooded in. The powers representing furious anger finally took complete control, and started a reign of terror.
That seems roughly to be the current emotional trajectory of the Republican party. Democrats should temper their glee with alarm, since the unleashing of strange, chaotic, and violent elements in its opponents affects the rest of the country, even if they lose, and even if they seem likely to remain, at least for the foreseeable future, a minority in the country as a whole.