Despite the fervor of President Trump’s Republican opponents, the president’s brand of hard-edge nationalism — with its gut-level cultural appeals and hard lines on trade and immigration — is taking root within his adopted party, and those uneasy with grievance politics are either giving in or giving up the fight.
.. The Grand Old Party risks a longer-term transformation into the Party of Trump.
“There is zero appetite for the ‘Never Trump’ movement in the Republican Party of today,” said Andy Surabian, an adviser to Great America Alliance, the “super PAC” that is aiding primary races against Republican incumbents. “This party is now defined by President Trump and his movement.”
.. Many of those who remain will have to accommodate the president to survive primaries from the pro-Trump right.
.. governor races in Virginia and New Jersey and a special Senate race in Alabama — Republican candidates are mirroring Mr. Trump’s racially tinged campaign tactics.
.. Many of their voters prefer the Trump way.
“We’re not an element,” said Laura Ingraham, a pro-Trump talk show host. “We’re the party.”
.. Ms. Ingraham .. the conservatism of market-oriented internationalism simply has little mass appeal.
“There’s no constituency for open borders, endless war and these international trade deals that are skewed against the United States,” she said.
.. As for the limited government pitch that defined Mr. Flake’s career, Stephen K. Bannon, the president’s former chief strategist, scoffed.
.. “It’s very nice. But it’s a theoretical exercise. It can’t win national elections.”
.. “We have a leader who has a personality disorder,” said former Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, “but he’s done what he actually told the people he was going to do, and they’re not going to abandon him.”
.. “I don’t think the rank-and-file Republican believes that corporations are people,” said Sam Nunberg, a former adviser to the Trump campaign who has also worked with Mr. Bannon.
.. For now, though, the vision for a more populist-nationalist party sketched out by Mr. Bannon is being won as much through intimidation as through actual purges in Republican primaries... “The message they’re sending is: The way to survive is by accommodating him, changing their tone and professing loyalty to Trump,” said William Kristol.. former Representative Tom Tancredo, who was shunned by the Bush-era Republican Party for his harsh anti-immigration views, is considering a comeback bid for governor in 2018.
.. Mr. Graham believes that the president is not as wedded to some of his nationalist policies as his supporters want to believe.
“The best thing that could happen to Trump and the future of the Republican Party is for Trump to fix a broken immigration system,” Mr. Graham said.
.. Establishment Republicans are attempting to convince Mr. Trump that “if you join with Bannon, you cut your own throat,” Mr. Graham said, because it could lead to an impeachment effort by a Democratic-controlled Congress.
But these arguments cause the early Trump enthusiasts only to roll their eyes. The party establishment, these Trump backers say, wants to govern as if the election never happened.
“They still think the election was about Trump’s personality,” Ms. Ingraham said. “It wasn’t. It was his ideas.”
Republican politicians throughout the age of Trump, and again and again they have chosen to die in the dark.
This was true of Trump’s strongest primary-season rivals, who fought him directly and concertedly during exactly one of the umpteen debates and then, finding open war hard going, chose to lose and bow out as though Trump were a normal rival rather than the fundamentally unfit figure they had described just a few short weeks before.
It was true of the party functionaries, the hapless Reince Priebus above all, who denied the residual Republican forces resisting Trump the chance to fight him one last time in the light of the convention floor.
.. It was true of Paul Ryan; it was true even of John McCain... It was not true of everyone. Mitt Romney and John Kasich declined to fall on the sword of party unity; so did George W. Bush and his father; so did some governors and a few junior senators, Mike Lee and Ben Sasse and Jeff Flake... while they refused to make the quietus, to strangle their own convictions in Trump’s ample shadow, they declined many chances to keep up the fight openly as well... The nomination of a figure like Trump, a clear threat to both the professed beliefs of his party’s leaders and to basic competence in presidential government, is the sort of shattering event that in the past would have prompted a real schism or independent candidacy... But Romney couldn’t talk Kasich into being that independent candidate, all the other possibilities demurred.. Now, almost a year into the Trump presidency, a similar dynamic is playing out. There is a small but significant Republican opposition to Trump, but its leading figures still don’t want to go to war with him directly, preferring philosophical attacks and tactical withdrawal to confrontation and probable defeat... To the extent that there’s a plausible theory behind all of these halfhearted efforts, it’s that resisting Trump too vigorously only strengthens his hold on the party’s base, by vindicating his claim to have all the establishment arrayed against him... In the end, if you want Republican voters to reject Trumpism, you need to give them clear electoral opportunities to do so — even if you expect defeat.. an anti-Trump movement that gives high-minded speeches but never mounts candidates confirms Trump’s claim to face establishment opposition while also confirming his judgment of the establishment’s guts and stamina — proving that they’re all low-energy, all “liddle” men, all unwilling to fight him man to man... If Corker really means what he keeps saying about the danger posed by Trump’s effective incapacity, he should call openly for impeachment or for 25th Amendment proceedings.. If Flake really means what he said in his impassioned speech, and he doesn’t want to waste time and energy on a foredoomed Senate primary campaign, then he should choose a different hopeless-seeming cause and primary Trump in 2020. George W. Bush should endorse him. So should McCain, and Corker, and Romney, and Kasich, and Sasse, and the rest of the anti-Trump list... They should expect to lose, and badly, but they should make Trump actually defeat them, instead of just clearing the field for his second nomination... And not only for the sake of their honor. The president’s G.O.P. critics should engage in electoral battle because the act of campaigning, the work of actually trying to persuade voters, is the only way anti-Trump Republicans will come to grips with the legitimate reasons that their ideas had become so unpopular that voters opted for demagoguery instead... A speechifying anti-Trumpism, distant from the fray, will always be self-regarding and self-deceiving — unwilling to see how the Iraq War discredited both the Bushist and McCainian styles of right-wing internationalism, incapable of addressing the economic disappointments that turned voters against Flake’s Goldwaterite libertarianism and Romney’s “trust me, I’m a businessman” promises... Only in actual political competition can the Republican elite reckon with why it lost its party, and how it might win again.. I think the G.O.P. is more likely to be renewed by someone who currently supports Trump or someone not yet active in politics than it is by the men resisting the president today.
I may disagree with Mr. Flake on policy, but I consider him an honorable man, a loyal friend and a valued colleague. His retirement is deeply troubling to me because he represents a principled and patriotic Republican Party, one that has long championed strong American leadership around the world, and one I now fear is falling apart.
.. Over the past few decades, our political culture has corroded. Traditions of compromise and civility have given way to a zero-sum, winner-take-all approach that is now out of control. As Mr. Flake said on the Senate floor Tuesday, “Anger and resentment are not a governing philosophy.”
.. Republican leaders have offered occasional defenses of their colleagues from these attacks: Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, called Mr. Flake “a very fine man” of “high principles” on Tuesday. But they have largely remained on the sidelines as Mr. Trump and his allies have attacked those few Republicans who have dared to call for civility and compromise.
The consequences of this could be grave.
.. If the Republican Party under Donald Trump has no room for independent-minded conservatives, and if, in the coming years, senators like Jeff Flake and Bob Corker are replaced by fringe conservatives handpicked because of their blind loyalty to this president, it will be too late for responsible conservatives to salvage the party they’ve built over generations.
.. As Democrats call for independence and pragmatism from Republicans, we should be asking ourselves how tolerant we are of dissent within our own party and how much we are really willing to reach across the aisle.
In a stunning one-two assault, Mr. Corker of Tennessee, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Mr. Flake took on the president in terms rarely, if ever, heard from members of a sitting president’s party.
Mr. Corker, who has been feuding with the man he once contemplated serving as vice president, accused Mr. Trump of serial lying and debasing the office.
“We must never regard as normal the regular and casual undermining of our democratic norms and ideals, we must never meekly accept the daily sundering of our country,” Mr. Flake said.
.. But Mr. Corker, Mr. Flake and Mr. McCain remain the outliers.
.. Mr. McConnell left his lunch with Mr. Trump and members of the caucus to emphasize the issues that bind congressional Republicans to Mr. Trump and play down the divisions underscored by Mr. Flake and Mr. Corker.
.. They have been willing to look past some actions and pronouncements by Mr. Trump that they consider beneath a president in hopes of pushing into law some of their long-sought goals, the most important of which are tax cuts. And with no substantial legislative achievements so far, the party is all in on a tax overhaul, recognizing that failure to deliver one will be a political disaster. That necessity ties them tightly to Mr. Trump, at least for now.