You can get a lot of takers in this town for the proposition that the Republican Party is in its death throes, that the radical outliers have taken over, that it will go the way of Canada's old Progressive Conservatives.
This will be Donald Trump's big legacy piece; crushing the establishment Republicans, finishing the process he began in the Republican primaries. There is a lot of sentiment supporting the notion that the Grand Old Party has had its day, that it is time American conservatives moved on. But moving on in the hyper-nationalist, anti-immigrant, protectionist manner of a Mr. Trump is a course Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan could scarcely have imagined.
We should recall that few saw the demise of the old Canadian Tories coming. Only nine years before their collapse in 1993, that party won 211 seats, the most in Canadian history. But populist and nationalist movements at the provincial level took hold. The populism fomented in the West, chiefly Alberta, under the Reform Party banner while nationalism soared in the province of Quebec with the Bloc Quebecois. Those insurgent forces captured 52 and 54 seats respectively in the 1993 election while the Progressive Conservatives fell a staggering 209 seats short of their 1984 tally.
The forces that took down Canada's grand old party are arguably stronger today in the United States. There's already been a dress rehearsal here, coming in the form of Tea Party insurgency in the GOP beginning in 2009.
That movement lacked a formal structure, a hierarchy, a leader. Now more elements are in place. There is a boss of the Republican Party, Donald Trump, who is not beholden to it. For the presidential nomination, he ran against the party establishment and staged what was essentially a hostile takeover. He has since that time become more estranged, blaming congressional Republicans for failing to enact his agenda while aligning himself recently with the Democrats on immigration and budgetary issues.
The Trump populist/nationalist agenda is more like a third-party one. The agenda has far more adherents than the platitudes of the Republican old guard. The party's big base is firmly in the grip of Mr. Trump. It has held firm no matter how he veers, how he falters.
The third party, a shadow party as some call it, is currently being organized by Steve Bannon, Mr. Trump's former campaign manager. It's got mega-money, that of hedge-fund executive Robert Mercer. It's got a media platform, Mr. Bannon's Breitbart News. It is home for the nation's grievance bearers, the millions who feel they've been exploited by elites, by immigrants, by the undrained swamp.
A Bannon-backed America-firster, Roy Moore, roiled the Republican establishment last week by easily defeating its favoured man, Luther Strange, in a Senate nomination battle in Alabama. With Mr. Trump's tacit support, Mr. Bannon is lining up other outlier candidates to take down Republican regulars.
If there comes a time for Mr. Trump to bolt the old party, an infrastructure will be in place. That time could well come after the midterm elections. Mr. Trump will blame losses on the old guard for its failure to implement his policies. If his America-firsters do better at the ballot box, it will provide added incentive for an exit. A complication could well be the Robert Mueller inquiry into Russian collusion in the election. If the President is fingered and sees a lack of support from congressional Republicans, he will be all the more inclined to strike out on his own.
His base would be with him and one can bet Republican regulars would come over to run under a new banner, the American Party or whatever he might call it. They would realize, as Canadian Tories eventually did, there is no future in the old party.
If it all sounds outlandish, bear in mind the impulsive, incendiary, mercurial nature of the man occupying the Oval Office. He defies the norms. He could defy a party that has existed since 1854.