They're good with either of their barmy extremists
This tracks with my instinct about the GOP base but it's interesting to see some back up. Michelle Goldberg went to CPAC and came away with the clear impression that despite the fact that Trump isn't the number one choice of conservatives he's not a deal breaker:
[A]fter spending three days talking to many conservatives at CPAC, I’ve concluded that the opposition to Trump is not nearly as staunch as we might expect. Most of the Trump opponents I spoke to didn’t see him as a paradigm-shattering threat to the Republic. They simply saw him as their less-preferred presidential candidate. That’s why it’s a mistake to view the GOP as entirely polarized between the Trump and not-Trump wings. Kellyanne Conway, the conservative pollster and president of a pro-Cruz super PAC, told me that Trump is the second choice of most Cruz voters. “The one-two punch of Trump and Cruz has shown that this is a conservative populist party,” she told me.
Of Mitt Romney’s warning about the dangers of Trumpism, Conway says, “If Gov. Romney really thought his message was going to be so resonant among the conservative faithful, he would have delivered it here at CPAC. But then he would have risked being booed. And he would have risked running into a movement that’s fairly unified in its thirst to beat Hillary Clinton in the fall.” In other words, despite the protestations of aghast intellectuals and religious purists, conservatives will eventually fall in line behind Trump if that’s what it takes to win.
I thought Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform and a central figure in right-wing organizing, might express qualms about Trump. After all, Norquist is an advocate of immigration reform; his wife is a Palestinian Muslim, and he is loathed by Islamophobes for his efforts to bring Muslims into the Republican Party. In the course of a 45-mintue conversation, however, he was far more disdainful of the anti-Trump forces on the right than of Trump himself.
At CPAC, the real anger was reserved for Republican elites who might try to manipulate a brokered convention.
I would take issue with the definition of the party as "conservative populist" which makes no sense and just call it "right wing extremist". The authoritarian white nationalists, the theocrats and the low tax/regulation plutocrats have been living together quite happily for many years now. If they want to stay together they just have to stop pretending to be mainstream and be what they are: an extremist fringe party. (Of course, that's exactly what is fueling their anger --- seems they don't like not being in charge of everything. Imagine that.)
I suspect Goldberg is right. They'll hold their noses and vote for Trump and so will the establishment. And they'll all do the same for Cruz if he's the one who prevails. The smart ones know, however, that either one will be a disaster for the party. The country may be open to conservatism in certain ways but the ugly extremism represented by either of the two leading candidates is outside the realm of mainstream thinking in America.
And if the truth were known, the smart ones don't want either of them to win even if they could since they are both espousing crackpot fringe ideas that will destroy the country.
When Ted Cruz came to the Senate in 2013, after winning a squeaker of a Senate race the previous November, he didn’t waste any time in bringing himself to national attention. It wasn’t his style to use his freshman term to keep his head down and learn the ropes. Just seven weeks after being sworn in, Cruz made a name for himself by accusing fellow Republican Chuck Hagel of taking money from communist North Korea during his confirmation hearings for Secretary of Defense. This accusation startled virtually everyone and earned Cruz a rebuke from committee chairman John McCain. Senator Barbara Boxer drew an apt analogy when she said she was reminded of “a different time and place, when you said, ‘I have here in my pocket a speech you made on such-and-such a date,’ and of course there was nothing in the pocket.” She was alluding, of course to the notorious Senator Joseph McCarthy.
As Jane Mayer reported in the New Yorker at the time, this was not hyperbole. She had personally heard Cruz claim that the Harvard School of Law had harbored a dozen communists on the faculty when he was a student there:
Cruz made the accusation while speaking to a rapt ballroom audience during a luncheon at a conference called “Defending the American Dream,” sponsored by Americans for Prosperity, a non-profit political organization founded and funded in part by the billionaire industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch. Cruz greeted the audience jovially, but soon launched an impassioned attack on President Obama, whom he described as “the most radical” President “ever to occupy the Oval Office.” (I was covering the conference and kept the notes.)
He then went on to assert that Obama, who attended Harvard Law School four years ahead of him, “would have made a perfect president of Harvard Law School.” The reason, said Cruz, was that, “There were fewer declared Republicans in the faculty when we were there than Communists! There was one Republican. But there were twelve who would say they were Marxists who believed in the Communists overthrowing the United States government.”
Within seven weeks of becoming Senator, Cruz was a national figure who was being compared to one of the most reviled figures in American politics.
The more establishment figures like McCain and Brooks loathed him, the more the right wing of the party loved him. He became a backroom advisor to the “Freedom Caucus” in the House and he led the charge to shut down the government in 2013. Many on the right attribute their victory in 2014 to his strategic leadership.