History will remember 2015 as the year when The Republican Party As We Knew It was destroyed by Donald Trump. An entity called the GOP will survive — but can never be the same.
Am I overstating Trump’s impact, given that not a single vote has been cast? Hardly. I’m not sure it’s possible to exaggerate how the Trump phenomenon has torn the party apart, revealing a chasm between establishment and base that is far too wide to bridge with stale Reagan-era rhetoric. Can you picture the Trump legions meekly falling in line behind Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio? I can’t either.
Bush raised shock-and-awe money but turns out to lack his father’s and brother’s skill at performing on the national stage; he seems to want to be crowned, not elected. Rubio is like the teacher’s pet who speaks eloquently in class but doesn’t do his homework. Chris Christie was slow off the mark, perhaps having been stuck in traffic on the George Washington Bridge.
Who else would be acceptable to the GOP establishment? Certainly not Rand Paul. Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee and John Kasich all had their glory days in the last century. Carly Fiorina has never held elective office. Scott Walker, Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal, Lindsey Graham and George Pataki have come and gone.
At year’s end, the campaign is dominated by three candidates who appeal over the heads of the establishment and straight to the unruly base: Ted Cruz, who negates the fact that he is a sitting senator by waging all-out war against the party leadership; Ben Carson, a distinguished neurosurgeon who seems increasingly out of his depth; and Trump.