Just about everyone who studies polls and elections is convinced that Donald Trump is extremely unlikely to win the Republican Party nomination, even though he's led solidly for close to six months. But that doesn't mean that we can't glean important insights, and have a little fun, by thinking through the likely consequences of a hypothetical Trump victory.
Consider the pundits.
Ever since the modern-day conservative movement came together in support of Ronald Reagan's candidacy in 1980, its leading intellectuals have tended to fall in line behind the Republican Party's nominee for president. Sure, they would jostle before and during the primaries, with each pundit throwing his writing and thinking behind whichever candidate came closest to exemplifying the precise mix of personality traits and policy proposals he favored. But by the time the nomination was secured, party loyalty would kick in and the preferences of Republican voters and party bigwigs would get the final say. And that was okay, as far as the pundits were concerned, because no matter which candidate ended up at the top of the ticket, he was bound to be better than whatever Big Government liberal the Democrats had chosen to run against him.
But that won't necessarily be true if Trump ends up as the nominee next summer. So what would the conservative pundits do?
Most, I think, would choose to go into exile, withdrawing their support, at least temporarily, from the Republican Party. And that would be an event every bit as significant as the split in the Republican electorate that a Trump candidacy would reflect and intensify. It would mark nothing less than the crack-up of the conservative movement as it's been constituted for the past 35 years.
The reasons for the splintering would vary, often from one media platform to another, and sometimes from one pundit to the next.
The Wall Street Journal's influential editorial page and its leading columnists, for example, are ideologically committed to open immigration and an idealistic foreign policy. That would make it impossible for most of them to go along with a Trump candidacy.
Something similar could be said about the literal and figurative descendants of the original neoconservatives at The Weekly Standard and Commentary. These magazines and their most prominent regular contributors are best described as hard-power Wilsonians. They truly believe that American hegemony and military involvement across the globe is nearly always good for the United States, good for Israel, and good for the world as a whole — because of the strength and worth of America's universalistic ideals. Trump's xenophobic vision of the country as an armed camp ringed by walls designed to keep out Mexicans and Muslims is inimical to their idealistic vision of the country and its mission.
The same is true of Fred Hiatt's Washington Post editorial page. It holds, too, for Post columnists Charles Krauthammer and George F. Will. Though the latter is a harsh critic of the neocons, he's made his intense dislike of Donald Trump clear from the beginning of his campaign. It's unthinkable that Will would end up supporting his candidacy.
The real question to ask of those opinion journalists in the neocon orbit is which of them would be willing to publicly endorse a Hillary Clinton candidacy against Trump. It's hard to imagine Commentary's John Podhoretz supporting any Democrat for president, but I can certainly imagine him using the pages of his magazine to denounce Trump all the way through the fall. Max Boot has made clear at numerous points in the past that he advises and supports Republicans primarily because of foreign policy; if the Clinton camp asked him post-convention to climb on board to help her defeat Trump, I wouldn't be at all surprised if he took her up on the offer. As for Robert Kagan, I suspect he'll end up on Clinton's foreign policy team regardless of what happens with Trump. (Kagan has already served as an informal advisor to the former secretary of state, while his wife was her spokesperson at the State Department.)
William Kristol is trickier. Ever on the lookout for a populist figure to whom he can attach himself and in whose ear he could whisper in the Oval Office, Kristol was at first guardedly optimistic about Trump's candidacy. That abruptly ended when The Donald lit into John McCain for becoming a POW during the Vietnam War. Since then Kristol has repeatedly attacked Trump — and repeatedly predicted the certain and imminent demise of his campaign.
Since Kristol's main area of concern is foreign policy, it's at least conceivable he would be tempted to decamp to Clintonville if Trump became the Republican standard-bearer — except that his role in cheerleading for Bill Clinton's impeachment in 1998 probably assures that he'd have no direct contact with or influence on the candidate. That might be enough to keep Kristol neutral. But even a grudging endorsement of Trump is highly unlikely.
The devoutly religious social conservatives at First Things, National Review, The American Conservative, Crisis magazine, and other outlets would never consider endorsing Hillary Clinton. But neither would most of them be willing to support the candidacy of a man who, despite some perfunctory statements about being a Christian, supports an agenda that so directly contradicts Christianity on multiple fronts.
When it comes to the rest of National Review, still movement conservatism's flagship magazine, its most prominent staffers have already hit Trump very hard. NR editor Rich Lowry and Trump attacked each other publicly over whether Carly Fiorina castrated him in the September GOP primary debate. Back in late summer, Jonah Goldberg savaged Trump and his supporters (whom he memorably dubbed the "Trumpen Proletariat") for their unconservative ways. And Ramesh Ponnuru has made a point of dismissing the candidate as a nuisance and his campaign as boring.
That leaves the handful of pundits who strongly oppose immigration — Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, and Mickey Kaus — as the most likely writers to throw their support behind the xenophobic real estate mogul.
But the rest of the conservative pundits? They'd likely spend their time taking aim at the candidate at the head of the party they've devoted their careers to cheering on — while plotting a comeback the next time around.