Regardless of the outcome of the midterm election, this much already has become clear: The battle for the soul of the Republican party is over, and President Trump has won.
Mr. Trump was long resisted by his party’s establishment, and rejected by a large swath of the GOP’s core ideological conservatives, many of whom formed a kind of never-Trump resistance.
Now, as the second anniversary of his election approaches, both of those opposition fronts have crumbled. For Republicans, for better or for worse, it’s Mr. Trump’s more-populist party now.
At the grass roots, Republicans have united behind Mr. Trump with surprising solidarity. In this campaign season, establishment GOP candidates have accepted his help and endorsement and, in many cases, mimicked his style and themes.
The furious Democratic opposition to Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has galvanized even many Republicans dubious about Mr. Trump. They see him as a flawed but preferable alternative to a Democratic Party they dislike and fear, and appear to regard him as a useful shield against it.
Perhaps most surprising, conservatives who disdained Mr. Trump and considered his views on trade, immigration and national security to be heretical are increasingly drifting toward him. In one leading indicator, two conservative writers critical of Mr. Trump—Max Boot and Jennifer Rubin—have in recent days been attacked by other conservatives for their views.
.. Frank Luntz, a Republican pollster who conducts frequent focus groups with voters around the country, says he also has been observing conservatives coalescing behind Mr. Trump—and bending to his policies.
“He’s redefined what conservatism means,” says Mr. Luntz. “I’m shocked at how many now support his trade policies. They support tariffs. On immigration, they were never for a wall. But now they are for a physical separation.”Signs of this Trump dominance and conservative acquiescence are woven throughout a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll... Eight in 10 conservatives have positive feelings toward the president; by contrast, only 42% have positive views of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, largely responsible for placing dozens of new conservative judges on the federal bench... The question is how Mr. Trump, who as a candidate was openly critical of party leaders and conservative activists, has managed to establish this grip... It isn’t necessarily because Republicans like his demeanor. In fact, many still are offended by that style. A third of Republicans say they don’t like Mr. Trump personally but approve of most of his policies.Part of the embrace of Mr. Trump undoubtedly comes because the economy is humming along so well; Republicans are inclined to give him credit for that, and they want to be part of the trend.
Mr. Luntz says the Kavanaugh fight in particular made Republicans who had been put off by the president’s anger and insulting style begin to embrace those characteristics. “They have bought into Trump’s claim that nothing else works,” he says.
.. the price of fighting him has been high. “There were people willing early on to take him on and they got smashed and hammered at the base of the party and they shut up,” he says.