This is Donald Trump's Republican Party now. The rest of us are just living in it.
It wasn't all that long ago that it seemed like conservatives were back in control of the GOP. For conservatives who thought the Republican Party was sick throughout the George W. Bush years, the constitutional conservatism of Sens. Rand Paul and Mike Lee felt like a treatment that seemed to be working. These GOP senators worked with civil libertarian Democrats on surveillance reform and criminal justice in the Senate while their colleagues in the House Freedom Caucus emerged as a constructive voice for true conservative causes.
Yet soon, the debilitating symptoms of Washington returned. In fact, the disease worsened. Bush and John McCain were terrible at controlling government spending, inconsistent at best on civil liberties, and reckless on foreign policy. But at least they were men with basically decent impulses who weren't inclined toward racial demagoguery.
Now we can't even count those blessings. The small government wing of the Tea Party has been overwhelmed by Trump's lower-brow populist wing, consumed by red state identity politics or worse. Paul went nowhere in the Republican presidential primaries while Trump won, beating conservative Sen. Ted Cruz.
Even the constitutionalists I've praised had their problems. The American people clearly want a bigger federal government than the Constitution, strictly interpreted, authorizes. The failure of Paul and Cruz showed that even conservative voters are looking for more than an ideologically disciplined platform with arms and legs.
The biggest mistake Republicans can make is to assume that Trump's implosion and likely defeat in November would solve all the party's problems. It's tempting for Republicans to tell themselves that the party that has had such great success winning state legislative seats and the last two midterm elections would have won the White House if Trump hadn't screwed it up. But the fact is that millions of rank-and-file Republican voters don't feel like they have anything to show for those victories. The more ideological among them can't help but notice the party hasn't accomplished its ideological goals. Others are clearly starting to question whether aspects of the ideology — free trade, employer-friendly immigration policies, foreign wars, and even cuts to the top tax rate — serve their material interests.
Republicans couldn't get working-class whites to turn out with any enthusiasm for Mitt Romney. They can't get college-educated suburban whites to vote for Trump at all. They can't even get a hearing from other growing demographic groups, who with each passing election grow more convinced the Republican Party is actively hostile to them.
GOP elites hope they can simply bid the Trump voters good riddance and then the new voters will come. This is wishful thinking. New Deal liberals and civil rights supporters had to coexist inside the Democratic Party with Southern segregationists for decades before their coalition could be remade.
"Go to hell" might be an appropriate response to an alt-right Twitter user sending you racist memes on social media. It is not a constructive response to 40 percent of the Republican primary electorate.
There have always been millions of Republicans who aren't especially ideological by movement conservative standards. They are patriotic, even nationalists. They are nostalgic for the America of their youth. They voted in huge numbers for Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush.
Trump liberated them from their march down the Paul Ryan roadmap. Maybe Cruz or Mike Pence can persuade them to re-enlist. But it won't be easy. The RNC's post-2012 autopsy assumed future Trump voters could be safely ignored. If the New York businessman loses as badly as the polls predict, many Republicans will treat his supporters with open contempt.
"One can disavow Trump," writes The Atlantic's David Frum. "But if one disavows Trump's voters, one has effectively surrendered any hope of a center-right alternative in national politics."
Conservative immigration restrictionists like to paraphrase a poem written after the 1953 East German riots: "The government should dissolve the people and elect another one." Republican leaders don't have that option, either for their own base or the increasingly diverse electorate of the country as a whole.
Donald Rumsfeld may have been wrong about Iraq, but he was right that you can only go to war with the army you have.