Neo-conservatives and “movement” conservatives look to be the biggest losers in the case of a Trump Presidency. That is why they make up the core of the “never Trump” brigade.
It is no surprise that William Kristol, one of the intellectual leaders of the neo-conservative alliance, is doing everything he can to find a person to run as an independent. A Trump victory would be debilitating to neo-conservatives, already on the ropes for having been wrong about Iraq. Neo-conservatives believe that the US should have an activist foreign policy with a willingness to use force. The Iraq war wasn’t wrong, they argue, just not executed properly. They yearn for another military hawk in the White House who will make common cause with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to threaten rather than negotiate with Iran, and to aggressively reshape the Mideast.
Trump early on proclaimed the Iraq war “a mistake” that he “never supported,” and his foreign policy statements have veered towards a kind of neo-isolationism, with the US using it’s economic clout to get “better deals.” If Trump wins, the Republican party will cease being a primarily hawkish party and the neo-con dream may be dead.
If they remain in the opposition against Hillary they can still push their critiques with force; if they are countering a Republican then they’ll be rendered virtually impotent. For them a President Trump is a worst case scenario.
The other losers are “movement conservatives,” especially those of the religious right. Take a look at redstate.com or Erick Erickson’s website “The Resurgent.” These are the activist Republicans who have demanded a rightward shift of the party, criticized moderate Republicans as “Rinos” and were only lukewarm supporters of Romney and McCain, who they considered too “establishment.”
Now they have been pleading for Romney to run again, and have been as aggressive as Kristol in rejecting Trump and all he stands for. They recognize that a Trump led Republican party would likely mean the end of the “culture wars” started back in the 1980s when many of these movement conservatives became politically aware. Their big issues are abortion, God, and public morality. They earn to turn back the clock to a more traditional cultural epoch. They’ve had a rough go of things under Obama, but felt a Cruz Presidency might turn it around.
Anyone who knows Trump’s past knows he’s neither religious nor particularly conservative, at least in terms of social mores. He may throw soundbites to the religious right about abortion or the Supreme Court, but once in office all signs are that he’s going to shift to the center, and that his heart is definitely not in pursuing the ideological goals of the movement conservatives.
In short, two groups who have vied for leadership of the GOP will find themselves irrelevant and impotent if Trump becomes President – so much so that they may never recover.
Ironically, if Trump wins and actually tones down his rhetoric and has a successful Presidency (not something we can assume), the big winner may be the GOP. Arguably the activist groups pushing the GOP to avoid compromise and punishing those who dare even say something nice about Democrats have been hurting the Republican brand. Republican voters in 2008 and 2012 chose nominees the activists didn’t like; these activists don’t represent the party.
If Trump wins and those powerful activist groups are rendered irrelevant, the GOP can build a conservatism that fits with the social reality of the 21st Century. The Cold War is over, a militarist foreign policy isn’t feasible, and the 1980s are a long time ago. Trump may not be the one to reshape the party, but by showing the inadequacies of the groups that have been dominating the debate, he may open things up for a stronger GOP in the future.
Of course, that’s assuming he’ll be able to govern reasonably well. That’s not an assumption I’d bet money on.