Wall Street Journal on February 17, 2016, published a commentary by leading Conservative writer Fred Barnes. He warned that the split between the GOP base and the party’s leaders could result in a Democratic victory in November. Excerpts below:

…televised debates have turned into brawls. And it threatens to prevent Republicans from winning the presidency that otherwise might be theirs.

If the turbulence continues—and there’s no end in sight—the Republican nominee will lead a badly divided and weakened party in the general election in November. The Democratic candidate won’t be a powerhouse. That’s a certainty. But either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders will have the benefit of a united Democratic Party, a significant advantage in a close election.

Anyone who watched the recent two debates…could see the difference. The Republican candidates—four of the six anyway—got caught up in personal attacks. They were testy and offended. Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Sanders, while hardly chummy, spent considerable time echoing each other. “There is no question Secretary Clinton and I are friends,” Mr. Sanders said before noting a partial disagreement over Libya. No Republican uttered such words.

The split between party leaders and a substantial number of party voters emerged after Republicans won the House in the 2010 midterm election, and swelled when they added the Senate in 2014. Their legislative gains were minimal. The Republican base, egged on by conservative talk radio, accused congressional leaders of knuckling under to President Obama. Thus the notion of betrayal.

The discord and anger were practically an invitation to Mr. Trump to enter the race. A unified Republican Party would have provided him neither the political space in which to run nor issues to exploit. And Mr. Trump would most likely have decided not to run, as he had in earlier presidential years.

The moment he announced, Mr. Trump made opposition to immigration his calling card. It was a shrewd choice. More than any other issue, immigration alienates the conservative base from the Republican establishment in Washington. The real-estate tycoon turned reality TV star went on to create a constituency that includes working-class Republicans, renegade Democrats, and moderates.

Mr. Trump’s crude style has had a huge impact. He insults rivals, tosses out slurs, trashes Republican icons, and interrupts constantly during debates whenever he is mentioned, alluded to, or just feels like it. When he’s talking, he waves off anyone who dares to break in.

The more bruising the fights, the more difficult it will be to produce Republican unity. The New Hampshire exit poll was not encouraging. Republican voters were asked if they would be “satisfied if Cruz wins the nomination?” The result: 38% said yes, 59% no. Mr. Rubio did slightly better: 41% yes, 57% no. Mr. Trump beat both of them: 51% yes, 46% no.

Having capitalized on the GOP split, Mr. Trump shows no interest in bringing the party together. Unity is not his strong suit. His put-downs of every Republican except Ronald Reagan continue nonstop. Like Mr. Cruz, he’s antiestablishment. But he treats Mr. Cruz no better than the other candidates. Two days ago, he said Mr. Cruz is “the biggest liar” he’s ever met and “unstable.”

The Donald is not a team player, yet he has the best shot at the moment of winning the nomination. What happens then? The Republican rift will not be healed and disunity will reign. It’s highly likely that a sizable chunk of the Republican establishment will decline to back Mr. Trump in a repeat of 1964 when liberal and moderate Republicans refused to support Barry Goldwater.

In 2016 the prospect of a Republican triumph is fading. Republicans would rather quarrel angrily than win. Should this allow Mrs. Clinton to slip into the White House, we have a pretty good idea what will happen. President Obama’s legacy of ever-bigger government will be preserved, Mrs. Clinton will add to it, and America will suffer the consequences.

Comment: Mr. Barnes has a point but much could happen until November. Mrs. Clinton in handcuffs because of the e-mail scandal would not be helpful to Democrats. Mr. Sanders would probably lose the general election against any Republican candidate.


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