The political landscape was ripe this year for a credible Republican alternative to Democrat Hillary Clinton. But that never meant that merely any alternative would do.

Donald Trump failed to pass the smell test among general-election voters. Even if they had doubts about Clinton, they often had even greater doubts about Trump. Instead of making the election a referendum on his rival presidential nominee, Trump made it about himself. Instead of talking policy, he talked slogans and platitudes. Instead of offering a vision, he offered vulgarity.

For many longtime Republicans, the party’s turn to an anti-establishment message of class warfare, which has generally been part of the Democratic mantra, is deeply depressing. The Republican Party’s increased reliance on — and political traction with — alienated, less educated, less affluent white voters as the country is becoming more educated and more diverse suggests that too many Republicans either don’t care about winning or don’t understand what is happening in the country.

According to the Nov. 3-5 NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll, Trump is now doing a bit better than Mitt Romney did among non-Hispanic whites with less than a college degree. But Trump is doing far worse than Romney among non-Hispanic whites with at least a college degree.

In the 2012 presidential election, Romney beat President Obama among non-Hispanic whites with at least a college degree by 14 points — 56 percent to 42 percent. Clinton is now winning that same group by 10 points, 51 percent to 41 percent, according to the survey. Even more striking, Romney won non-Hispanic women with at least a college degree by six points (52 percent to 46 percent) in 2012, but Clinton is now leading among those same voters by 21 points (57 percent for Clinton to 36 percent for Trump).

The GOP’s post-2012 election autopsy noted that the electorate is changing and the party needs to appeal to Latinos, Asian Americans and younger voters to remain competitive. I’m sure the autopsy’s authors never thought that their party would have trouble with more-educated and more-affluent voters.

But Republican primary voters nominated a man this time who disparaged Mexicans and other Latinos, talked to and about women as if this were the 1950s, and repelled younger voters and upscale voters by sounding intolerant and appearing erratic.

African American turnout may well dip his year, but an already documented surge in Latino registration and turnout will damage the GOP today and probably long-term — a surge that follows directly from Trump’s campaign.

Oddly, Trump, the rich real estate investor, somehow convinced working-class white Republicans and independents that he would be their advocate. Given his lifestyle and past behavior, does anyone really believe that he would rather hang out with an unemployed coal miner than with JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon?

Trump started off his campaign promising to motivate a flood of white voters who had never voted before. But he never understood — and many in the media overlooked the fact — that for every white voter flocking to his campaign, Trump would lose at least one mainstream Republican who could not support him, because of his language, behavior and lack of preparation for the presidency.

Though this will come as no surprise to regular readers of this column, national surveys show Clinton the clear favorite in the election. The final NBC-Wall Street Journal poll shows her up by four points (44 percent to 40 percent, with 6 percent for Gary Johnson and 2 percent for Jill Stein), as does The Washington Post-ABC News Tracking Poll (47 percent to 43 percent, with Johnson at 4 percent and Stein at 2 percent).

Most other reliable surveys, such as the latest Fox News, Bloomberg and CBS News-New York Times polls, show Clinton ahead by at least three points. While that isn’t a landslide, it confirms a narrow but clear Clinton popular-vote and electoral-vote advantage.

The Senate outlook, on the other hand, remains uncomfortably murky.

Republicans will successfully protect three of their own initially vulnerable Senate seats: Ohio, Florida and Arizona. Democrats now appear likely to hold their open Nevada seat, which Republicans had hoped to swipe.

With Democrats expected to knock off GOP incumbents in Illinois and Wisconsin, Republicans need to hold Indiana’s open seat and reelect three of four at-risk Republican incumbents to keep the Senate: Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire, Patrick J. Toomey in Pennsylvania, Richard Burr in North Carolina and Roy Blunt in Missouri. That certainly is possible, but it is very difficult.

As I have noted previously, the House is not and has not been in play this cycle. Ever. Democrats simply had too few opportunities to net 30 seats. Trump’s current, more competitive status actually helps a few GOP House candidates, and that, combined with the distinctions that voters have made between Trump and down-ballot Republican candidates, should keep Democratic House gains to a minimum.

Trump’s likely loss raises dozens of questions for the Republican Party. How does it recover? Who leads it back? Is it still headed for a showdown between uncompromising conservatives and pragmatic conservatives that never took place because of Trump? Will grass-roots Republicans understand that upper-class voters, Hispanics and Asian Americans are crucial to the party’s recovery?

Clinton also has plenty of decisions. Will she shock her adversaries and allies by trying to unite the country, which probably means appointments and policy proposals that her progressive wing won’t like? Or will she let the Elizabeth Warren-Bernie Sanders wing of the Democratic Party pull her left?

One final point should not be missed: Even with his impending defeat, Trump’s performance is mind-boggling. Given his campaign style, obvious personality issues, middle-of-the-night tweets, lack of knowledge, amateurish campaign, thin-skinned reaction to criticism and generally inappropriate comments about many people and groups, it is surprising that he will receive as many votes as he will.

The animosity we all witnessed this year reminded me of Paul Taylor’s insightful observation about the current shape of American politics in “The Next America: Boomers, Millennials, and the Looming Generational Showdown,” with the Pew Research Center:

These days Democrats and Republicans no longer stop at disagreeing with each other’s ideas. Many in each party deny the other’s facts, disapprove of each other’s lifestyles, avoid each other’s neighborhoods, impugn each other’s motives, doubt each other’s patriotism, can’t stomach each other’s news sources, and bring different value systems to such core social institutions as religion, marriage and parenthood. It’s as if they belong not to rival parties but alien tribes.

Trump’s showing in the polls, though he will probably fall short on Election Day, confirms the deep fissure in the country and suggests that the next few years will not be any easier than the past few.

Stuart Rothenberg writes about the politics of the presidential and congressional races.