Legend has it that after leveling Carthage in the Third Punic War, Roman army generals ordered that the city’s fields be sown with salt so that they’d lie fallow for years, Roman generals not being particularly well known for their benevolence in victory.
Many Republicans think Donald Trump’s nomination is doing roughly the same thing to their party: destroying any chance for growth it once had and leaving the GOP to wither and die on Trump vineyard vines.
“My general sense, looking at this election, is that what we’re witnessing here is the end of something much more than the beginning of something,” Yuval Levin, editor of the conservative policy journal National Affairs, told me recently.
Moments of historical change in the course of a party’s life can be difficult to spot. In “Party Ideologies in America, 1828-1996,” political scientist John Gerring marks the beginning of the modern Republican Party as Herbert Hoover’s shifting campaign rhetoric in 1928 and 1932, when he talked more about the virtues of the American home and family than hard-tack economics. Hoover’s oratory about the progress of the individual being threatened by an overzealous government bureaucracy stuck around for the next eight decades, and the wisdom of generations has helped us discern that this was indeed the start of a new Republican era.
The shock of 2016, though, is just how self-evident the inflection point at which the Republican Party finds itself is; Trump is a one-man crisis for the GOP. The party has been growing more conservative and less tolerant of deviations from doctrine over the past decades, so what does it mean that a man who has freely eschewed conservative orthodoxy on policy is now the Republicans’ standard-bearer?
Many have assumed that adherence to a …