If Mr. Trump loses, the party faces a daunting reconstruction challenge. Policies that promote economic growth, social mobility and greater opportunity are important. But in some respects the party’s stance on the tax code, wage subsidies, higher education, tax credits or entitlement programs are a secondary priority.
Republicans need to wrestle with more fundamental questions first: Will their party choose as its leaders people who respect democratic institutions and traditions, or not; who conceive of America as a welcoming society or as one that is racially and religiously closed; who are committed to helping or exploiting the weak and vulnerable; who admire or oppose tyrants; who respect truth or view it in purely utilitarian ways; who abhor ignorance or embrace it? Will Republicans gravitate toward leaders who have authoritarian tendencies, who incite violence in their followers, and whose personalities are vindictive, cruel and disordered?
In a post-Trump world, Republicans need to ask themselves if their party will be characterized by its aspirations or its resentments. Can it make its own inner peace with living in an increasingly diverse and nonwhite America? Does it conceive of its role as tamping down or inflaming ugly passions? Does it believe in a just social order or not?
These questions are not about whether the economic concerns of Mr. Trump’s core constituency should be taken seriously and addressed by Republican policy makers. They clearly should, and in fact many of the people who urged the party to focus on this long before Mr. Trump entered the race are his most scathing critics. These questions go to how the Republican Party conceives of itself, its role and purpose in our political system and our common life. No single person can answer them. This self-definition rests with Republicans in every state and social stratum.
Peter Wehner, “Is There Life After Trump?”, The New York Times (6 November 2016), SR5.