The big, existential question for Republicans right now is: who are Donald Trump’s supporters?
It matters because this will determine the future, and the future prospects, of the party. I heartily agree with Ben Domenech, whose article on this just made it harder for me to fulfill my obligations to his publication, by pre-empting most of what I was planning to write about Trump for The Federalist. Ben argues that Trumpism would turn the Republicans from a “classically liberal right” to a European-style nationalist party that is “xenophobic, anti-capitalist, vaguely militarist, pro-state, and consistently anti-Semitic. If you criticize Donald Trump, it is exactly the sort of hate mail you should expect to receive.” If that happens, he writes, we would be “losing a rare and precious inheritance that is our only real living link to the Revolutionary era and its truly revolutionary ideas about self-government.”
I don’t think this is actually going to happen, because the “classically liberal” wing of the right is too big and too strong. The Republican Party just spent the last six years, during the rise of the Tea Party movement, absorbing a fair portion of the “libertarian” wing of the right, the Rand Paul wing, which I suspect has little overlap with the Trump phenomenon. More widely, the right has benefited from a long intellectual renaissance focused on the universal ideas on which America was founded, which has no need for what Ben calls “identity politics for white people.”
But it would help to have some more exact information on the size and composition of Trump’s supporters. That Trump will not be the party’s nominee is something we can (pretty much) take for granted. Too much of the party hates him, and not just the “establishment”—which critics like myself are somewhat comically assumed to be part of—but the rank and file and a fair portion of the punditry. Thus, we find that about a third of Republicans say they would never support him, far more than any other candidate.