There are actually two questions here. The first: What will happen to the Republican Party? For starters, this assumes (as is increasingly wise) that the Republicans are heading for a big loss. If they do not lose, the Republican Party remains the party of authoritarian, right-wing nationalism, and the country is in deep trouble. But if President Trump does lose, what happens to the party depends on a myriad of factors — the size of the loss, the fate of the Senate majority, the degree to which the party splits with Trump during the final stretch, the attitude of donors who will have wasted collectively hundreds of millions of dollars and — yes — how Democrats govern going forward. It is going to be a long time before that all works itself out.
The second question is normative: What should happen to the Republican Party? As a proud co-founder of the “they deserve to go out of business” faction, I maintain that Republicans’ collective failure to defend the Constitution from enemies foreign and domestic, to stand up to a dangerously defective president and to adhere to some semblance of objective truth renders this crop of Republicans undeserving of the public’s trust. Since a party is the sum-total of its elected officials and supporters, Republicans, from my perspective, should be disqualified from holding office until there is a new generation of Republicans untainted by support for Trump and willing to repudiate Trumpism.
I confess to having no specific loyalty to a shell of a party; it is the ideas it propounds and the leaders it offers that determine whether it deserves support. The question then becomes: What kind of party does the country need if the current Republican Party is relegated to the dustbin of history? We need a functional two-party system in which each party offers alternative policy ideas and restrains the other. However, if the Trump era taught us anything, it is that certain core values are required to participate in the political process (e.g., fidelity to the rule of law; devotion to separation of powers; recognition that the United States is defined not by race, gender or religion, but by our creed that “all men are created equal”). To gain admission to the political playing field, a party must buy into the constitutional system and reflect basic human decency. Trumpism has proved utterly unwilling to do that, and its core philosophy — to the extent there is one — is a brand of populism that is antithetical to a pluralistic democracy.
By the same token, the philosophy that ran its course in the GOP (e.g., tax cuts for the wealthy, antagonism toward government, aversion to racial fairness) does not provide a viable alternative to progressivism. There simply is not sufficient support for a party featuring unfettered faith in the free market or denial of systemic racism. It is not morally tenable to feature voter suppression and discouragement as a party strategy.
Without Trumpism or dead-end conservatism, what is left? The task for former or disenchanted Republicans, I would suggest, is defining what political philosophy is appropriate to our times and distinct enough from progressivism to offer a choice. Whatever you call it — conservatism 2.0, moderation, pragmatism, “small-l” liberalism — it must defend democratic institutions, address yawning gaps in wealth and opportunity, integrate into a global economy, tackle systemic problems such as climate change and racism, root out corruption and cronyism, and exercise leadership in a world in which illiberal regimes are increasingly aggressive and confident. There are numerous attempts to forge ideas and an overarching philosophy that might be competitive in the political arena. Out of that maybe a new party or ideological movement will arise.
In the meantime, the existing Republican Party should be defeated, and all Americans should encourage the Democratic Party to govern honorably and advance the best progressive ideas with an appreciation for unintended consequences and the value of free markets. A spirit of innovation and pragmatism, rather than dogma and one-size-fits-all solutions, would serve the country well. I suspect if Democrats do not fall prey to excess or corruption, they will be in power for a good, long while — until an alternative party offers something of value to Americans. Right now, the only thing Republicans offer is a brew of meanness, propaganda, science denial, corruption and racism.