The GOP is President Trump's party now. Republicans are just living in it.
As if we needed more evidence of this clear truth, witness the case of Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), who managed to survive his own very public and humiliating adultery scandal — revealed during his tenure as South Carolina's governor, when Sanford tried to cover up an Argentinian affair with a now legendary excuse of hiking the Appalachian trail — to rebound with a second act as a respected congressman. In the House, Sanford became known for his principled opposition to Trump and his adherence to limited-government orthodoxy. This put him on the wrong side of the president.
Ask and you shall receive. Sanford lost his primary Tuesday night.
This is Trump's party. Republican lawmakers simply cannot cross the president and expect to hold onto their jobs.
I have felt for years that the modern GOP, largely because of its near single-minded fixation on serving the interests of the rich, was intellectually bankrupt, and saved from permanent defeat only by the Democrats' parallel lurch left and American moderates' reluctance to hand progressives a blank check on government. Trump's rise has brought the GOP's intellectual bankruptcy into even sharper relief. It turns out the GOP's old Reagan-era shibboleths don't actually matter to any Republicans outside the Beltway. Rank-and-file voters will do whatever the president wants, principles be damned.
Of course, the problem with this cult of personality is the person at its center. Between his rambling, his lying, and his racial appeals, Trump seems to have completely shut down the brains of every thinking person in the GOP establishment. Most slavishly lick his boots because of how popular he is with the base, without any sort of broader reflection about where the party or its agenda should be headed. A few sputter indignantly at Trump's various excesses, without, it seems, spending one second wondering whether they might have had any role in getting us here by spending their careers promoting failed ideas.
Sanford was one of those Republicans who consistently attacked the GOP from the right for spending too much money. As admirable as that is in the abstract, Sanford did not seem to realize that that plank of the Republican agenda was one of the most unpopular, even in a deep-red state like South Carolina.
So, where do we go from here? (By "we," I mean conservatives who want a better future for the GOP and America, and by "better" I mean both in terms of "winning elections" and "implementing good policies.")
The best answer I can come up with is to urge all of my fellow conservatives to come up with some sort of synthesis between the best parts of Trumpism and of Reaganism. Imagine a brand of economic populism that is less eager to court favor with America's elites, but still holds true to conservative principles.
I know that sounds very abstract. It will take a lot of smart people to think through the specifics. The problem is that there's almost nobody in today's GOP who thinks this way. They're too busy cowering in Trump's shadow to let any fresh ideas see the light of day.