So it really is Trump after all. I was no more prescient than any of the chattering class in foreseeing this outcome. And thus, suitably chastened, I hesitate to predict how it will turn out. But some consequences do seem sufficiently likely to invite comment.
For the moment, Donald Trump is the nominal head of the Republican Party. That traditional position will be grudgingly acknowledged, if at all, by the Washington office-holders who have been the objects of his contempt and scorn. The author of “The Art of The Deal” will confront the “Party of No”, and I wouldn’t place a wager on who will prevail.
If Trump wins in November, the clash with the Republican establishment should be earth-shaking, and Democrats would be wise to withdraw to the sidelines. But self-control is not a Democratic Party strong point, so they will likely be buffeted by the conflict. A loss by Clinton would be a triumph for the far-left populism of Sanders and Warren. So both parties would emerge with new and untested coalitions. As a result it is likely that new leadership would emerge in Congress. Anyone who claims to know where this will lead in terms of concrete congressional or international initiatives is a fool, so I won’t volunteer for that title.
It is true that Trump promoted some positions in his inimitable rhetoric during the campaign for the nomination, but I don’t see how anyone could believe that they represent firm goals. From massive walls to mass deportations, from tariffs reminiscent of Smoot-Hawley to remaking NATO, none of this seems like serious policy. It sounded good, so he said it and the audience applauded. But Trump is a savvy businessman. He understands that any deal begins with your maximum positions. Then you negotiate. Politicians have always done this to a degree, but they are usually far more circumspect.
Conversely if Clinton wins, as the polls almost universally predict, Trump will recede as an aberration comparable to Goldwater in 1964. That doesn’t mean that the emerging Republican Party will seem familiar. Without the influence of Trump, it will shakily resettle along its previous fracture lines. Recriminations will abound that Trump was not a real Republican, and the search for that unicorn will resume. Cruz is well-positioned to lead the true-believer wing toward 2020, but he seems to have badly misunderstood his targets in this nomination fight so he must recalibrate if he is to solidify that position. He is smart and well-organized, so I wouldn’t discount his prospects. The Democrats would have their future in their hands, as a Clinton victory would almost certainly restore their control of the Senate and make them a formidable force in the House. That should worry those Americans who share their basic beliefs as they could easily misinterpret the election as a solid vote of confidence in their swing far to the left.
For now, there is an emerging perspective of “Trump the Candidate”. Both Senate Majority Leader McConnell — privately — and House Speaker Ryan — not so privately — view Trump as a loose cannon. Political calculus relies heavily upon predictability, so this threatens what they hold most dear. They may eventually toe the party line but not with much enthusiasm. Interestingly, Hillary has also begun to employ this metaphor, making the viewpoint essentially unanimous by the political establishment.