It wasn’t a huge win or an unambiguous blowout; it didn’t happen in the flashiest state or vanquish the most prepared or best funded alternative, but Donald Trump’s victory in New Hampshire was enough to seal the fate of the Republican Party.
After months of hollow debates, half-hearted hype, and hapless broadsides against the former occupant of the Oval Office, Republicans ended up where we always knew they would be: picking Donald Trump as their standard bearer for an historic third time. His rambling, incoherent acceptance speech after New Hampshire demonstrated the power of his inevitability, as he paraded former opponents in front of the podium in ritualized humiliation and made them smile through it. Everyone, eventually, has to kiss the ring.
Nikki Haley, bless her heart, has vowed to continue on, but for all reasonable observers, the general election was set once the first primary returns came in. Besides, as I’ve already noted, Haley’s only possible route is to present herself as a non-Trump wrapper for Trumpian policy and cruelty. There’s no point in accepting imitations when the real thing is available. She will fold soon—hopefully before a thorough thrashing in her home state of South Carolina—and join the ranks of Republicans in abject submission.
And then that will be it: R.I.P. GOP.
While they’ll still have all the trappings and function of a regular political organization, the Republican Party will basically be gone. There are no more political goals, no more alternatives, no more items on the agenda, no next election cycle, no pipeline for candidates, no policy solutions, no facts, no truth: There is only Trump. And as the party consolidates into the vehicle for the desires and demands of one person, it ceases to function if that person is gone.
Like, let’s say, to prison.
Because while no one is willing to point it out, as he’s a major party nominee in the making, Donald Trump is still under indictment for more than 90 criminal charges, has been legally confirmed as a rapist, and is facing the possibility of being Constitutionally barred from the ballot if at least two Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices are functionally literate. Even if he doesn’t end up behind bars, there’s a very good possibility that Trump is non-viable as a general election candidate for a very, very, very long list of reasons, and it took exactly two election contests in a list of 56 for Republicans to basically dismiss all other options with prejudice (quite literally, in Haley’s case).
Even if Donald Trump manages to avoid all of that, the reality of his deep unfavorables with an electorate that has never given him a positive approval rating in almost nine years of vying and holding public office, make him a millstone for Republicans in November. And yet, top to bottom, the GOP has given him more and more—of their platform, of their influence, of their wealth, of their legacy—to the point where there is almost nothing left.
Astute observers may argue that this was inevitable once he beat 16 other Republicans in 2016, including a dozen members of what was once called a “deep bench.” Or maybe it was all over in the summer of 2020, when, in lieu of presenting an actual platform, the RNC just said they’d do whatever Trump wanted. There’s a case to be made that he truly scooped out what was left of the party’s soul when more than 120 Republican representatives voted to support his attempt at an electoral coup after he attacked them with an armed mob. Or possibly the GOP died during the impeachment trial, when Republican Senators acquitted him on the charge of inciting an insurrection.
But I would argue it’s this narrow win in New Hampshire that hammers the final nail into the Republican coffin. Because after everything Trump has done and all of the risks he poses, with half a dozen alternatives waiting in the wings, the voters of the party and the apparatus that serves them still can’t imagine being anything after him.
Lindsey Graham said once that Donald Trump would be the end of the Republican Party. One way or another, 2024 will prove him right.