I can’t support Trump and I won’t vote for him, but any attempt to dump Trump at the convention was always going to have a huge legitimacy and coherence problem, even if you could have unbound the delegates and convinced the majority of delegates to take NeverTrump oaths written in blood.
Trump got 45 percent of the popular vote. Ted Cruz got about another 25 percent of the vote. If the delegates could somehow have been unbound, the Republican politicians who hate and distrust Cruz would do everything they could to draft some other candidate. And that is the problem.
With the possible exceptions of Senators Mike Lee and (less reassuringly) Ben Sasse, the Republican candidate who was drafted would very likely be within the bounds of conventional, elite Republicanism. If you could get the Republican senators, governors, and former cabinet members into a room without cameras, my strong suspicion is that 90 percent of them would agree on a federal agenda of entitlement cuts, high-earner tax cuts, and a comprehensive reform that includes such incredibly unpopular elements as increasing future low-skill immigration. The Republican Party leadership is cursed with a consensus among themselves that is not shared by either Republican voters or the general public.
Whether they were a governor, or a senator – whether they were white, black, Hispanic, or Asian — whether they were male or female — any candidate that emerged from a contested convention brokered among the party’s elites would almost certainly be part of the elite Republican consensus. Many of the most determined NeverTrumpers in political journalism are among the harshest critics of the arrogant, and entitled Republican establishment, but a NeverTrump convention coup would most likely have produced a candidacy that would be based on the smug, business class Republicanism that was explicitly rejected by two-thirds of the party electorate.
Trump is the wrong answer, but I don’t think rebuilding a broad-based conservatism starts with explaining why Trump is bad. It starts with Republican leaders (and aspirant leaders) understanding all the ways that the Republicanism of the George W. Bush administration, and the Romney campaign, and the 2012 Republican National Committee autopsy were insufficient to the needs of the moment. It starts with saying to Trump supporters (and Bernie supporters, and Clinton supporters) “This is where we got it wrong, and this is how we can get it right.” It starts with humility rather than self-righteousness.