So Donald J. Trump will be the Republican nominee for president.
I'll repeat that; let it sink in. Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee for president. Of the United States. Our voice on the world stage. Custodian of the world's second-largest nuclear arsenal. Commander-in-chief of the world's most powerful military. Supervisor of the world's largest economy.
Trump is what happens when callow, reality-show entertainment pervades the political realm. When our dumbed-down, celebrity-obsessed media repeats the toxic but "objective" notion that "both sides do it"—a mythology promulgating a false equivalence between a demagogic nationalist and his more mainstream rivals. When decades of talk radio and Fox News nurture an impermeable information bubble and stoke the flames of white aggrievement in the face of fast-changing social mores.
Most of all, Trump's rise is a symptom of how much the GOP's once-robust intellectual core has degenerated in the age of Obama. A better party—one that hadn't spent the last eight years inflaming its base with Manichean rhetoric, one that hadn't made obstinacy an axiomatic value—could have stopped this. But it didn't.
In the short term, this strategy proved effective. The tea party wave in 2010—and, on the state level, the gerrymandering that followed—ushered in what will likely be generational control of the House of Representatives. And the tea party's hard line effectively neutered Barack Obama's domestic aspirations two years in, driving down his poll numbers and halting any effort to accelerate a middling recovery.
In the process, however, the inmates took over the asylum. And so the Republicans have Trump, the perfect figurehead for what is no longer the party of Lincoln—or even the party of Reagan. The GOP now belong to Donald Trump and his angry supporters.
That puts the more scrupulous conservatives in a quandary: support a man who may lead their party (and their country) to ruin, or support Hillary Clinton, a woman who's been their bête noire for a quarter-century, but who represents a continuation of the status quo rather than dangerous unpredictability.
Already, the two living former Republican presidents have pointedly refused to endorse Trump, as has House Speaker Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney. Nebraska senator Ben Sasse, a tea party stalwart, has called for a third-party candidate. A not-insignificant chunk of the conservative intelligentsia has joined in.
Of course, most (though not all) of the #NeverTrump movement will eventually fall in line, just like most Bernie Sanders die-hards will fall in line. Modern politics is nothing if not tribal, and negative partisanship—voting against the other team—drives turnout. But this conservative revolt is nonetheless remarkable: party loyalists are proclaiming that the bigotry and boorishness of their standard-bearer are a bridge too far, even if that means Hillary wins.
Such courage, however, is lacking among North Carolina's top Republicans. Last week U.S. senator Richard Burr signaled his fealty to Trump. Governor McCrory has likewise pledged to support the nominee, apparently no matter what that nominee says or does. Which either means they think it's wise to hand Trump the nuclear codes or they're too petrified of offending the rabble to say anything to the contrary. Neither speaks particularly well of their character and judgment.
The good news is Trump will probably lose badly—and he might take McCrory and Burr and the GOP's control of the U.S. Senate with him. In the end, such a repudiation of Trump and his enablers might be the very best thing that could happen to a Republican Party that has gone so completely off the rails.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Party's Over"