Their best-laid plans have so far collided with reality. It didn't take GOP voters long to realize that most of their 18 candidates were the political equivalent of dead men (and one woman) walking. By the time most of them had quit — including early favorite Jeb Bush, bless his heart — they at least avoided the embarrassment of being on stage as the campaign degenerated into farce.
That noise you hear is the sound of party leaders panting over their failure so far to derail likely nominee Donald Trump. When Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, addressed the annual Conservative Political Action Conference last week, the delegates' responses suggested Trump may be unstoppable.
Next week's Ohio and Florida primaries could end the hopes of Gov. John Kasich and Sen. Marco Rubio. CNN reported Monday some Rubio aides want him to withdraw before the primary to protect a possible run for governor. That would narrow the field to Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz — but the latter is so disliked within the party, many GOP voters might just stay home in November.
Early on, GOP leaders dismissed Trump's candidacy as a larger-than-life businessman's vanity project. But what began as a distraction has become the GOP's nightmare. Thus the resurrection of Mitt Romney, who derided the frontrunner as "a fraud" who embodies a "brand of anger that has led other nations into the abyss," whatever that means.
It is unclear who at the RNC thought it a good idea for Romney to deliver a condescending and paternalistic rebuke of the men and women whose votes the party will need in November. And his gratuitous argument didn't go over well. A woman in Louisiana, which Trump won Saturday, said: "I personally am disgusted by it . You're telling me who to vote for and who not to vote for? Please."
These developments have caused party leaders to worry the nomination is Trump's to lose, leading some corporate CEOs and GOP leaders to meet over the weekend at a resort off the coast of Georgia to discuss how to stop him. That would leave Cruz — but his questionable electability could violate a political maxim: "You can't beat somebody with nobody."
The GOP's fears, while understandable, don't justify pessimism about its survival. It recovered from the 1964 landslide loss, as the Democrats did after 1972 and 1984. But it might consider revisiting the dilemma it created for itself in 2012. Priebus commissioned an "autopsy" to determine what the party should do to avoid a similar debacle in 2016. Among the conclusions: the party had to reach out to key voter demographics, including Latinos, blacks, women, gays and young people. Unfortunately, the recommendations were shelved.
America's valuable two-party system will continue serving us well if, in addressing crucial issues, Congress remembers the value of compromise. As Ronald Reagan famously said, in so many words, he'd rather have 80 percent of something than 100 percent of nothing.
Michael Loftin is former editorial page editor of The Times.