As the partisan reactions to Trump's potential trade war reveal, it is not the Never Trump fringe but the mainstream Republican party that is still the most formidable obstacle to carrying out the agenda that he campaigned on.
The Never Trumpers feel the same way as the mainstream GOP on policy, they just refused to flatter and court Trump the man, or endorse Trump the persona, in order to get out of him what they all want on a policy level -- tax cuts, deregulation, and the rest of the zombie-Reagan agenda.
When it comes to policy that cuts directly against the Reaganite agenda, suddenly we find out that the GOP has not "become Trump's party" as we continuously hear -- not one iota. They all immediately came out to slam the proposed tariffs on steel and aluminum, defending global elite investment and profiteering from cheap off-shored production rather than sticking up for the American working class.
We saw the same thing when Trump had his cabinet officials go out and say "We're not in the business of intervention anymore, so Assad's fate will be left up to the Syrian people". Just a few days later, the Pentagon vetoed that decision and plunged us into an indefinite occupation of yet another country in the Middle East, where we now have thousands of Americans, are amassing a private Kurdish army along the border of Turkey (a powerful nation and NATO ally who we may go to war against because of muh Kurdish freedom fighters), and provide air cover and propaganda for the jihadist militias that we were supposed to get out of bed with. Ditto for trying to get out at long last from Afghanistan.
And we saw the same pattern when the hardliners on immigration tried to use the GOP's unique opportunity to get through a real pro-American program to wind down legal immigration, deport illegals, all while throwing a major bone to the amnesty crowd by legalizing millions of DACA people. The GOP mainstream blocked even this weak solution -- you can imagine how outraged they would have been if the deal had been a moratorium on legal immigration, and amnesty for DACA people tied to deportations of non-DACA illegals.
These observations should temper the dismissive and triumphalist tone toward the Never Trump fringe, as in this column by Scott Greer at Daily Caller. Sure, the Never Trumpers per se have no mass support -- but then neither do most of the mainstream GOP-ers, and yet they're in power, controlling all three elected bodies of government, and running constant interference on the populist-nationalist agenda that won Trump the White House. The donors are the same way -- funding only the failed Reaganite policies that they've been funding for decades.
A party consists entirely in its politicians, its lobbyists, its party apparatus, its donors, and its sectors of society that use it as a vehicle to advance their material interests. Pundits and so-called influencers play little role, and since the Never Trumpers all come from this category, they are indeed ineffectual and irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.
But the fact that the National Association of Manufacturers and the Chamber of Commerce are still major institutional players, sending armies of lobbyists, who will manipulate legions of GOP puppets in government -- that's why the GOP is never going to give up its war on Trump's tariffs, or on his preferred non-interventionist military policy.
As such, there are zero candidates being fielded by the party who support steep tariffs and trade wars, de-scaling our wasteful and failing global military footprint, and sealing the borders and deporting illegals. There will be zero in 2020 as well, other than perhaps Trump himself. There is no way for Trumpian Republican voters to vote for more of what they wanted in his 2016 campaign.
Maybe the party structure will be successful in ending these tariffs early, or killing them before they're even signed (remember, yesterday was only an "announcement" of the president's intentions). Or maybe they'll last through the 2020 election, at which point the GOP as a party will see no more use for Trump and his fellow travelers -- they'll be grateful that they extracted a massive corporate tax cut out of him in 2017, but that's not worth what they would perceive to be an endless trade war that would erode the profit margins of the material sectors of the economy that control the party.
That's when an old-guard giant of the party like Romney -- or, in a pinch, Kasich -- comes along to dethrone Trump during the 2020 primaries. "While we applaud his approach to taxes, sadly these gains will be dashed to pieces by the wrecking ball of a trade war, and no party can allow such a self-inflicted act of destruction." This attempt may be unsuccessful, as it was for Ted Kennedy when he tried to unseat Carter in 1980, but it will be enough to severely wound the incumbent president during his re-election.
This is what happens at the end of a political regime (the disjunctive phase, in Skowronek's model). The would-be reformer from within the party is frustrated by so much institutional inertia, as Carter was in his attempt to undo the New Deal that his Democrat party initiated and had coasted on for decades. True reform will come from the opposition party, a la Reagan taking a sledgehammer to the New Deal for real (the reconstructive phase). The formerly dominant party will now only be able to push back marginally from within the new framework set by the newly dominant party (the preemptive phase, a la Bill Clinton being a slightly less Reaganite follower of Reaganism).
In the present, that means there will be so much institutional obstruction from Trump's own party that he will be largely unsuccessful at carrying out his agenda. Like Carter, who deregulated the transportation sector but not much else, he'll be able to get something done here or there on trade and re-industrialization -- but nothing widespread. And yet even this small amount of decisive breaking with the received wisdom will prove too offensive to the old guard that they will want him ousted. See again all the GOP reactions to just one set of tariffs, from every section of the GOP spectrum (aside from voters, of course, but they do not govern).
Rather, it is the Democrats who are the most happy and supportive of the potential trade war, whether politicians or organizations who belong to the party's coalition (like labor unions). This sets up the Democrats as the successor to the Trump agenda on trade and re-industrialization, obviously under the reconstruction of a Bernie Sanders type leader, not a multicultural Reaganite like Hillary Clinton or Nancy Pelosi (one of the few Dems to vote in favor of NAFTA -- not even Wall Street puppet Chuck Schumer voted for that free trade deal).
The same goes for Trump's plan to disentangle the American military from so many of our occupations all over the world. That gets only minimal GOP support, from libertarians like Rand Paul or Mike Lee, and is much more aligned with the Democrats.
All that remains is taking an entirely class-based approach to restricting immigration and deporting illegals, and the Bernie reconstruction will take over every major element of the Trump campaign. And single-payer healthcare, which Trump has favored for a long time on both moral and cost-efficiency grounds.
Trump supporters who came from a populist-nationalist background should reconcile themselves to these historical patterns of regime change. It will be Bernie-style Democrats who carry out most of the Trump agenda for real. The Republican party will get another chance within those new boundaries as a "slight pushback" party, akin to Eisenhower and Nixon during the New Deal era of Democrat dominance. The Republicans in a Bernie era would be just like him on economics and politics writ large, but differing in some minor way that would let them win a victory in between Bernie and his same-party successors.
It is only on that far longer time-scale that the Republicans will win back power over the government, and rule in a populist-nationalist fashion. First the Bernie-style reconstruction will get three or more terms (as all reconstructive phases get), and then the descendants of Trump will fill in for a few terms.
That's 15-20 years down the road, though. In the meantime, the most important job is to break up the current moribund GOP coalition, and to strengthen the Bernie takeover of the Democrat party. Vote in the Democrats' primaries for populist candidates (there being none on the GOP side), and then in the general election as well.
Trumpian Republicans will never be able to govern on their own terms when the institutional structure forces them to be perpetrators of Reaganism, but only when they are the "slight pushback" party in a regime dominated by Bernie-style Democrats.