From the diaries…
I have long held season tickets in the #NeverTrump grandstands, and in recent weeks I have been saddened to see our ranks thinning. Saddened, but not surprised; after all, the Party Elites (which have never liked conservatives anyway) are lining up behind his candidacy, and more and more prominent conservatives are cloaking themselves in permanent disgrace by kneeling before Zod. Apathy, unfortunately, has taken hold, and many folks seem ready to buy into the idea that a Trump presidency would be somehow better for conservatives than a Clinton presidency. As I continue to bang the #NeverTrump drum, I am more and more accused of painting an unrealistic, extremist, nightmare scenario of our movement under a Trump presidency. “It wouldn’t be that bad,” my former #NeverTrump friends say.
But they’re wrong. A Trump Presidency would cripple the conservative movement.
Trump, of course, is a liberal, and where he diverges from liberalism, he is a populist. I will not go further in making that case here, as it has been decisively proven to such an extent that anyone who claims the man is a conservative is too far gone to argue with. But, apathy has indeed set in, and some conservatives are now simply shrugging their shoulders and saying, “so what?” We can ride out four years of Trump’s populism, they say, easier than four years of Clinton. Then, they say, we’ll just saddle up a true conservative in 2020 or 2024. Trump was lighting in a bottle, they say, a once in a lifetime event; in four or eight years, they say, we can elect Cruz, or Rubio, and set the party back to rights, and we’ll have avoided a Clinton in the White House.
But, this is not the case. If Trump is elected president, then the GOP will shed conservatism as its dominant ideology. If Trump becomes the President of the United States, we conservatives will be marginalized from the only major party that, to any degree, has catered to our interests. We will be left without a Party.
Simply put, the nature of political parties ensures it.
Political parties, we must first remember, are only vessels for ideologies, they not ideological in and of themselves. The operatives, staffers, fundraisers, and administrators who make up the professional Republican Party (be it the professionals of the RNC, the RCCC, or the RSCC) are paid to win elections and to raise money to facilitate winning those elections. The men and mechanisms of a political party will always try to choose the path of least resistance to victory. Because the Republican Party has long been associated with the conservative movement, it is often easy to forget that the GOP, as a party, has never been entirely comfortable with this association. Theodore Roosevelt almost succeeded in making the GOP a progressive party of big government, social liberalism, and expansive executive authority. The Rockefeller Republicans nearly accomplished their goal of making the GOP a European-style rightist party—a party that embraced the ideals of big government and merely wanted to tweak them and make them work better. Conservatives won the battle for the soul of the Republican Party, but it was a battle hard-fought, and it was won only when Ronald Reagan built a winning coalition around conservatives. For the last forty years, the easiest path for the GOP—and, indeed, the only path that has produced GOP presidents—has been to appeal to conservatives. With his 1980 election, Ronald Reagan won the battle that Goldwater had waged unsuccessfully in 1964—with his two landslide victories, Reagan built a winning coalition for the GOP, and ensured that conservatives were an essential part of it. He proved that the GOP needed conservative voters, and he sought out conservative voters as essential. In essence, Ronald Reagan proved that the easiest path to the White House for the GOP was through the conservative movement.
Of course, putting forward conservative ideas isn’t always easy, and that is why the Republican Elite embraced conservatives only begrudgingly (they had fought Reagan with the same ferocity they fought Goldwater). While it is easy to mistake this for malice, it is really more laziness and tameness. Political parties, as I stated earlier, will by their nature seek the easiest path to victory, and are generally afraid of taking risks. And the conservative path—while certainly the right path—is never the easiest path to walk. Liberals have always had a great electoral advantage over conservatives, because they can make as many promises as they wish in the name of Big Government, and then blame a lack of sufficiently Big Government when their promises fall through. We conservatives, on the other hand, are forced to ground ourselves in reality, and real solutions are often difficult solutions. This does not make for easy elections, because difficult solutions are rarely popular. It is easy to grandly declare that there will be no changes to Social Security, for instance (as Democrats do, and as Trump has done), but it does nothing to steer us away from that particular fiscal cliff. Scaling back the size and scope of Government, reducing spending, and freeing the economy are not easy winners at the ballot box—which is why the GOP Establishment has been so active thwarting conservatives in Congress from doing any of it.
Which brings us back to the meat of why a Trump presidency will cripple the conservative movement.
The inside-the-Beltway Republican elites have long looked on conservatives with a mix of disdain and fear—they see our commitment to conservatism as dangerous to their ambitions of continuing to live as a kind of an extended American Royal Family. The inside-the-Beltway Republican elite do indeed live in luxury, essentially on the backs of tax-payers and Republican donors. The Republican elected officials who kowtow to them bask in the limelight of a the D.C. media, sip cocktails in advantageous social circles, and are ensured lucrative inside-the-Beltway jobs when they leave public service. We must always be cognizant of the fact that the same inside-the-Beltway elites who have given us years of Failure Theater, and who regularly use underhanded tactics to re-elect men like Thad Cochran while destroying conservative challengers, would gladly be rid of conservatives if they thought they could continue to win elections without us. They pander to us because they think they must; they try to fool us whenever they think they can.
But a Trump presidency does them the favor of resetting the GOP coalition, in a way that leaves conservatives in the dark.
If Trump manages to gain the presidency, he will have won the GOP nomination running an openly non-conservative, openly populist, campaign. He will have won the nomination promising to make Government work more efficiently instead of promising to make it smaller (“I’ll make so many great deals. We have to make great deals.”). He will have won the nomination promising to install better bureaucrats (“I’ll hire the best people”) rather than promising to reduce the power of Washington D.C. He will have won the nomination supporting Federally-sponsored healthcare (as long as it run better than Obamacare). And he will have done it by openly mocking, demeaning, insulting, and downright lying about the best and brightest field of conservatives the Republican Party primary electorate has ever produced. In effect, Trump will have demonstrated that you don’t need to be a conservative to win the GOP nomination—and if he wins the presidency, he’ll have demonstrated that you don’t need to be conservative to get conservative votes.
If conservative ideals are no longer considered necessary for winning elections in light of Trumps nationalistic populism, the GOP will be happy to cast them off. The GOP inside the beltway, which has long begrudged having to pander to conservatives at all and viewed conservative principles as dangerous at the ballot box, will delight in embracing a new coalition, and a new ideology, that does not require making difficult choices or taking unpopular positions. As I said above, this may look like malice, but it is in fact simply the lazy means by which all political parties calculate– if Trump gives them a reason to believe that the path to the White House does not run through conservative principles, then the Party will have little interest in holding true to conservative principles.
Those Senators and Congressmen who have been anti-Trump, or neutral, will be nudged into supporting his policies, and as they do, Trump policies will become the GOP policies. Already, we have seen how few Republicans are truly willing to stand up to Trump’s hijacking of the Party—imagine, then, how few would do so when he is president? A Trump presidency will mean four years of the Republican Party embracing Trump’s populism. It will mean that the Senators and Congressmen who are elected and re-elected in 2018 and 2020 will do so on his coattails, and on the basis of his ideology; it will be difficult for a candidate to win the nomination in 2018 or 2020 by running against his or her parties President, after all, especially in States Trump carried. And if Trump has won, why would they be running away from him, anyway? GOP Senators and Congressmen will face the prospect of accepting and supporting the legislative agenda of this populist or face risking political ruin for moving against the sitting President of their own Party. Men like Sasse will truly find themselves on an island. The Party will be remade in Trump’s image, as is always the case when the White House shifts from red to blue or blue or red.
It will be a difficult image to break. The appeal of populism is the appeal of liberalism, in many ways– it is the appeal of endless promises, endless guarantees of safety, and the appeal of blaming all misfortunes on The Outsider, whatever it may be. After four or eight years of President Trump’s Republican Party, conservative Republicans will find it much more difficult to find voters ready to embrace a platform of self-reliance and self-determination. The Overton Window on curbing the welfare state will have slipped far to left– after four years of both Parties promoting and supporting entitlements, and merely discussing how to reform them and make them work better, any chance of meaningful reform will have slipped away. Conservatives will get no help from the Party itself; having found a winning ideology, and having found that they do not need the conservative ideology any longer, even failure theater will be a thing of the past. After all, why would the inside-the-Beltway elites need to go through the motions of repealing Obamacare when the Republican President merely wishes to “fix” it and turn it into Trumpcare? Why pretend to take action on limiting executive authority when the Republican President sees no limits to his authority at all? Our Party will become a mix of Rockefeller Republicanism and Know-Nothingism, and conservatism will find that it no longer has a place set at the table.
If Trump is elected president, Trumpism will replace conservatism as the dominant ideology of the Party, and his coalition will replace the Reagan Coalition.