The question is, what kind of Republican Party will Trump and his fans leave behind? A divided, demoralized party
-- with grim future prospects.
Trump, meanwhile, won't go away. In the last two weeks we've seen the scale of his ego: Anyone who isn't with him is against him and, boy, does he hold a grudge. So expect him to spend the next four years writing a book, appearing on TV, incessantly injecting himself into Republican affairs.
Worse, he will threaten to run again. His concern for the GOP's survival is zero. During the primaries he initially refused to commit to backing a nominee who wasn't Donald J. Trump. His own demand for loyalty now is comically hypocritical.
Even if the Republicans took advantage of President Barack Obama's space exploration program
and bundled Trump into a rocket for Mars, they'd still be stuck with Trumpism as a cultural phenomenon.
Because Trump didn't win the primaries on charisma alone. He exploited deep divisions within the GOP coalition. They're not necessarily about class, as is often suggested but not always backed by polling data, but certainly about attitude.
The GOP base was once defined by quite rigid orthodoxies on cutting government, projecting US power and moral conservatism. Trump has rejected all three and won votes from those who want a conservatism that will reduce immigration and uphold law and order.
Cheery, optimistic Reaganism is dead; the Bush administration helped kill it with Iraq, the credit crunch and a series of ethics scandals that prepared the GOP base nicely for compromise with Trump. Cynicism has conquered the right.
Perennially "disgusted" men such as Mitt Romney seem like something out of the Ark. Romney's constituency of sober plutocrats is shrinking, yet still powerful enough to resist Trump and bankroll a civil war.
The rejection of the ticket by so many officeholders in the past few days gives a sense of the scale of the elite's disaffection with their own voters. The only reason why more have not bolted, apparently, is that they've been astonished by the strength of grass-roots support for Trump.
One regard in which the GOP is unchanged is that it is the white people's party. From 1968 to 1988, this was an advantage. Now, as the white percentage of the electorate contracts, it's a disability. The dispute over what to do about it defines the civil war.
Anti-Trump Republicans demand a concession to political correctness: Be careful about language, pursue minority voters sensitively and even adopt policies such as immigration or police reform.
Trump sees no need for this. He wants minority votes, but he wants them on his own colorblind terms -- regardless of how those constituencies define their own needs. Hence he could label undocumented immigrants murderers and rapists and still expect to get the Latino vote.
He won't. The GOP might not get it for a generation. Its more moderate leaders understand and fear this, just as they see the growing gender gap in voting preferences and predict electoral oblivion.
Elements of the base, however, appear to have concluded that permanent opposition is a price worth paying to remain true to principle. They regard their economic needs and cultural identity as being in opposition to mass migration, so they refuse to budge an inch on policy. For them, it's a rational bid for survival.
We could be witnessing a party cleave in two. It's happened before. The Democrats were torn between liberal and segregationist wings in the 1960s. The current alignment of constituencies within the two parties, generally known as the sixth party system, may be due for a shake-up.
The Democrats will be the party of nonwhites, the college educated and liberals. Republican support will be concentrated among white men. Instinctive hatred of President Hillary Clinton will only strengthen that dynamic.
The GOP base will demand a nominee in 2020 who calls Clinton out as an anti-American socialist. In other words, they may nominate a Trump in name only. Can they be stopped? Not without the emergence of a transformative moderate leader. None is on the horizon. Ryan? Marco Rubio? John Kasich? A key reason for Trump's nomination is that the center is so lifeless and over-programmed.
Parties have been to the edge before and come back. The GOP nominated an extremist in 1964 yet won with a moderate in 1968; the Democrats did the same in 1972 and 1976. But right now it's so hard to conceive of a party being held hostage by a demography in decline and it building a winning coalition.
America in this regard is almost unique. Across the Western world, conservative parties have consciously engaged with modernity and adjusted to a changing electorate. The British Tories introduced same-sex marriage. The German Christian Democrats welcomed refugees.
The problem with Trump, therefore, is not just Trump. It's the social forces he represents, forces that constrain the more moderate leadership from chasing new voters. Perhaps the best thing that could happen for the GOP on November 8 is that Trump loses so badly that it repudiates his politics entirely. Alas, he will probably perpetuate a "stabbed in the back" myth that will suggest that defeat was down to Ryan.
Trump is one of those men who makes sure he wins even as he loses.