The Republican establishment foresees a defeat of Barry Goldwater proportions in the unlikely event Trump wins the Republican presidential nomination. As Trump’s lead in the polls grows, so too does their panic. Yet, for moderate Republicans, a Trump nomination is not something to be feared but welcomed. It is only after a landslide loss by Trump that the GOP can win the White House again.
Trump’s nomination would give what’s left of the sane wing of the GOP a chance to reassert control in the wake of his inevitable defeat, because it would prove beyond doubt that the existing conservative coalition cannot win the presidency. A historic thrashing of the know-nothings would verify that compromise and reform are essential to recapture the White House and attract new voters, such as Latinos, who are now alienated from the Republican Party.
A best-case scenario would see the nation souring on the Democrats after three victories in a row, the most either party has achieved in the post-war era, and the election of a pragmatic Republican in 2020, unencumbered by the right-wing baggage essential for winning the nomination that dragged down John McCain and Mitt Romney.
The Trump phenomenon perfectly represents the culmination of populism and anti-intellectualism that became dominant in the Republican Party with the rise of the Tea Party. I think many Republican leaders have had deep misgivings about the Tea Party since the beginning, but the short-term benefits were too great to resist. A Trump rout is Republican moderates’ best chance to take back the GOP.