For Republicans officials and candidates, these are harrowing times. Throw your lot in with Donald Trump or stand up to the bully billionaire? Stand firm on social issues or recognize the ship has sailed? They are sailing in uncharted waters where any decision can seal their fate for years to come. What's a conservative to do? Here is a guide for the perplexed Republicans, especially for those harboring presidential ambitions:
1. If you have not endorsed Trump, don't. Most of the frenzy about will you or won't you endorse has passed. You don't need to make grand pronouncements when no one is really interested. If pressed, "I respect the voters' decision" is not a bad non-answer.
2. If you are in office, do something productive -- quickly. Republicans are working on legislation to combat opioid abuse and on the defense authorization bill, along with bills to help manufacturers and address the Puerto Rico debt crisis. Frankly, Republicans may be in the minority in one or both houses next year so now is the time to get something accomplished.
3. If you are not in the House or Senate, don't run. If you have a chance to run, even for re-election, in 2018, don't. Whoever is president, expect huge conflict, much hollering and little to show for it. Rather than be labeled as part of the "intransigent" opposition, better to get some state or private sector experience. You can criticize and offer suggestions from afar.
4. If you are a governor, run and speak out against dysfunction in Washington -- whoever wins. Establishing a reputation as an effective, sober-minded governor who gets things done -- Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, for example -- will be an advantage.
5. Oppose bad ideas, wherever they come from. And there will be a slew of them whether the next president is Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. The temptation and safest course often will be to say "no." Instead, the model should be, " No, but. . . ." Have reasonable alternatives, offer amendments and find small victories. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is leaving the Senate, and other GOP standouts may well lose, so there will be plenty of opportunities for the survivors to offer smart conservative reforms and to show leadership on national security.
6. You don't have to weigh in on everything. The benefit of not being in power or not being up for election is you can pick and choose fights. On issues such as immigration and gay marriage, there is no politically "safe" move, so don't put those issues at the top of your list, and if you must address them, be selective (e.g., weigh in on reforms to the legal immigration system).
7. Campaign for whoever asks. If you are a popular governor or senator with presidential ambitions, help as many Republicans and conservative causes as you can, whether it is raising money or going out on the stump. You'll keep your campaign skills polished and show you are a team player. (Mitt Romney was superb at this following his 2008 loss, making him the favorite for the nomination in 2012.)
8. Be a happy warrior and a good colleague. The "establishment is evil" gambit has run its course. Even when disagreeing with colleagues, be cordial and don't blame Republicans for bad Democratic proposals. And don't make mountains out of small-process issues.
9. Travel and learn foreign policy. It's going to be a knotty area for decades to come. Use the time after an election, even after defeat, to consult with experts and become comfortable with the international cast of characters.
10. You can be a maverick -- to a degree. Trump surely proved you don't have to check all the boxes to do well in presidential politics. The GOP proved a lot of its old ideas (cutting top marginal tax rates, railing against gay marriage) don't work. That gives Republicans room to be innovative and daring. One need not drop all principles to see openings to break free of unhelpful straitjackets that are bad policy and/or bad politics. Don't deny climate change, just oppose left-wing, ineffective bureaucratic responses. Don't cut programs for the poor, but instead reform them.