George Will isn't just a Republican, he's pretty much the Republican. He's practically the conservative archetype: a pompous pencil-neck with a Leave It To Beaver-era haircut and bow tie who traffics almost entirely in regressive faux-intellectualism trimmed with just a hint of pretend folksiness. For decades, Will has been the go-to guy for Republican conventional wisdom, someone sure to stake out the invariably "GOP" position on any panel upon which he was placed. Want to hear somebody drone on exhaustingly about this or that Republican policy, politico or process? Better call Will. Want the GOP's Beltway apparatus broken down into a series of clumsy baseball metaphors? Will's your guy.
Which is why it really is a shock that George Will just announced that he's leaving the Republican party.
Now maybe it shouldn't be a surprise, given that Will, to his immense credit, has been one of the loudest and most powerful -- if the faction to which Will belongs has any power at all anymore -- voices against the ascendency of Donald Trump. It was back in April that Will penned an op-ed for The Washington Post stating unequivocally that if Trump were to get the GOP nomination, Republicans should see to it that he's denied the White House. It's statements like this that have earned Will a steady stream of juvenile Twitter taunts from Trump -- he of course called Will a "major loser" -- and the old school conservative belief system behind them is what's now led Will to opt out of the GOP and go all "unaffiliated." And maybe more than any single event that's come before it in this surreal, absurdist election season, Will's abandonment of the Republican party is proof not only of the civil war within the GOP, but of just who has the real power in that fight.
Put simply, and maybe this has been said far too often and is far too obvious by now: The George Will contingent within the Republican party is history. The beginning of the end was a slow motion trainwreck caused by the party elite itself, the people who chose to sell their souls and pander shamelessly to the racist, xenophobic yokel base that Fox News and talk radio spent years cultivating and riling up. It was this normalizing of the fringe crazies that directly led to the rise of Donald Trump. He's an unstoppable Voltron of every resentful, batshit crazy right-wing meme the Republican party courted and therefore legitimized. So, in reality, the GOP has no one to blame but themselves for this monster they now can't control -- the possibly brain-damaged, serially dishonest con artist who owns the hearts and minds of the conservative rank and file within the party far more than any of the elites do.
But it's how those elites are reacting to Trump -- the Republican traditionalists who should by all accounts know better -- that no doubt was the last straw for a guy like George Will. Because as soon as the choice came down to a self-evidently unfit clown like Trump in the White House or the loss of a victory they'd genuinely sell their souls to achieve, guess which won out. It took almost no time at all for the party establishment to fall in line and suddenly decide that a man many of them had spent months excoriating as a vulgar walking punchline -- in other words, as everything he actually is -- was now exactly the guy America needed to be the leader of the free world. For Will, that had to be the unkindest betrayal.
The reality is, though, that this is simply who the Republican party is now. True, you can argue that establishment pussy-footers like George Will, David Brooks and basically the entire right-of-center editorial staff of the Post and the Times are the ones who didn't seem to see the fire starting to burn out of control years ago (and if they did, they didn't speak up loudly enough at the time). But the fact remains that the GOP just doesn't belong to "sensible" conservatives anymore. It doesn't belong to the Beltway elites who once could speak craven shibboleths to the riff-raff then sit on them and their demands for a perpetual culture war when the time came. It doesn't belong to Ronald Reagan. Not anymore.
It now belongs to the people fellow George Will-ian Republican bore William F. Buckley once tried to keep at arm's length because he understood what kind of chaos the embracing of that fringe would bring upon Republican politics. It belongs to Trump's people. The Republican party is now the party of Donald Trump. And never forget that Republicans themselves willingly handed it over to this lunatic and his screaming, racist shock-troops on a silver platter.