The president remains lucky in one thing, though: dissatisfied middle Americans have no other options; the Democrats have resisted anything resembling a populist turn, while the Republican alternative to Trump, such as it is, looks like little more than Bush nostalgia—typically marketed in Reaganite drag. What would it take for “compassionate conservatism” and the “freedom agenda” to make a comeback? It would take a time machine, one that could stop George W. Bush from invading Iraq, the dream come true for neoconservatives that gave them the nightmares they’ve had to live with ever since. The likes of David Frum and Michael Gerson had their turn in power: it gave us endless wars, the Great Recession, Barack Obama and now Donald Trump. When that’s the alternative, who is shocked that Republicans stick with Trump?
The great fantasy of Trump’s critics is that once he’s gone, the old dynasties will return to their natural place in power. This has all been a horrible aberration, they believe, a last-gasp racist spasm by dying Red State yokels seduced by Vladimir Putin. Once the opioids have kicked in and put these Wisconsinites and Pennsylvanians and Michiganders to sleep for all time, global integration can resume; history will be back on track. America will once again face a safe choice between Obamacare and Romneycare, while wise men and women reenact the Cold War until the end of time.