The candidacy of Donald Trump has caused quite a bit of turmoil and ferment on the right as conservatives look on with amazement as an apparently Kevlar-plated and Teflon-coated Donald Trump continues to rise in the polls despite being hit with stuff (and, to be honest, hitting himself with stuff) that would have killed a lesser man. Absent so kind of spectacular flame-out — and given that he’s incredibly wealthy and impervious to assault it is hard to imagine what that will be — he seems well positioned to crush his opponents in the early primaries and make Super Tuesday a choice of Trump vs. Jeb.
Jonah Goldberg, writing in National Review, throws his hands in the air and proclaims No Movement That Embraces Trump Can Call Itself Conservative.
But if it’s true that politicians can disappoint, I think one has to say that the people can, too.
And when I say “the people” I don’t mean “those people.” I mean my people. I mean many of you, Dear Readers. Normally, when conservatives talk about how the public can be wrong, we mean that public. You know the one. The “low-information voters” Rush Limbaugh is always talking about. The folks we laughed at when Jay Leno interviewed them on the street. But we don’t just mean the unwashed and the ill-informed. We sometimes mean Jews, blacks, college kids, Lena Dunham fans, and countless other partisan slices of the electorate who reflexively vote on strict party lines for emotional or irrational reasons. We laugh at liberals who let know-nothing celebrities do their thinking for them.
I must admit that I found this article a bit unsettling because I was unaware than any movement conservatives were “embracing” Trump (and as I don’t read anything at Breitbart I wasn’t familiar with his example) and I am still unconvinced that any measurable number are. But embracing and understanding are not the same thing.
Conservatives are a minority within the GOP
The problem facing conservatives is that they are a minority of a larger political party, the GOP. Often this doesn’t show up in primaries where you have two guys running for office, a sorta conservative and not very conservative, but in a 17-person field you learn a lot more about the GOP primary electorate. Over 60% of the field (those supporting Trump and Carson and, to an extent Fiorina) aren’t political theorists. They are basically populists and they like engaging personalities. Indeed, Huckabee supporters fall largely in this category. When you look at the remainder of the field, Bush and Kasich and Pataki and Paul and Christie and Graham and Gilmore aren’t conservatives either. You could say that the conservative portion of the GOP consists of Walker, Cruz, Jindal, and Perry. Santorum could fit in this last tranche but I’d argue that his fiscal views would disappoint many conservatives.
We never get conservative candidates anyway
Indeed, I would argue that the GOP usually nominates candidates who are not conservatives. Goldberg’s National Review shamelessly fluffed Mitt Romney as a conservative in two election cycles telling us to believe their big-brain thinkers rather than our own lying eyes. When you look at Romney’s governance in Massachusetts and Trump’s previously held positions it is difficult to see much daylight between them. Pro-life legislation passed under Romney? How about health care? In Donald Trump you are seeing a viable version of a Mitt Romney candidacy, and one that is not soporific and reflexively apologetic.
Before that we had [mc_name name=’Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’M000303′ ] foisted upon us as conservative. Never mind that his campaign manager, John Weaver, was a Democrat operative. And, quite honestly, what has [mc_name name=’Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’M000303′ ] ever done to promote conservatism? Before George Bush (who had some conservative instincts but was not a movement conservative) we were given Bob Dole. No one believed George H. W. Bush was conservative hence Ross Perot’s rise.
So while Jonah Goldberg has a reason to be disappointed in movement conservatives who ’embrace’ Trump he really has no reason to expect the GOP to not nominate him. On the other hand, movement conservatives never get their candidate so Goldberg’s objection to Trump boils down to one thing: he doesn’t like the guy’s style. Fine. But that is an aesthetic. But let’s not pretend that a Trump candidacy is any more of a defeat for conservatism than Mitt Romney’s candidacy.
Understanding and ’embracing’ are not the same things
As one of the few, if not the only, RedState writers to say that I would cheerfully pull the lever for Donald Trump in the general election I am well aware that Donald Trump is not a conservative. But as much as I like Cruz and Perry and Jindal, at least two of those three will not be in the race when my state hold a primary. So my choice is do I go for a win? Because if Trump faces off against Hillary he will definitely win. Or do I satisfy myself with losing to Hillary because I think Trump’s gauche style offends my highly honed sense of propriety? On the outside chance Jeb Bush could actually win, do I really want that? Ultimately, winning is all that matters and winning with Trump is infinitely preferable to losing to Hillary or Biden.
I think the past eight years demonstrates that we are past the point of bemoaning unserious candidates. Barack Obama was and is an immensely superficial and unserious man. Everyone knew this in 2007 and it has become more obvious by the day. The man had no academic achievements, no personal achievements and no political achievements. Even those talents he allegedly had (spellbinding oratory) were false and contrived. Trump, on the other hand, has some achievements. You might not like them but they are there. He’s shown ruthless focus in getting what he wants. Even were I to agree that Trump is unserious, I think we all have a right to ask why an unserious candidate for GOP nomination is somehow worse than the Democrats having an unserious two-term president. Are we held to a different and higher standard? If so, explain [mc_name name=’Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’M000303′ ] and Bob Dole?
We need to keep in mind, though, that we got into this position because we let the ‘serious’ people run the show. It was serious people who made a shambles of our immigration system. It was serious people who destroyed our economy. It was serious people who have Americans convinced, for the first time ever, that their children’s lives will not be a good as their own. It was serious people who turned our government into a jelly bean jar of crony capitalism. It was serious people who turned college education from a ticket to upward mobility into a financial millstone. Serious people gave us Obamacare and homosexual marriage. By the Great Jehovah, we have a freakin right to be pissed off. And the political establishment is damned lucky that the only torches and pitchforks we are carrying are figurative ones because given the magnitude of their criminality and duplicity we would be justified sending thousands of serious people to the gallows.
The real question for millions of Americans is ‘how can anyone do worse than the serious people?’
As a conservative you have to ask why any of the other candidates (many, like Obama, who are running sans achievements or with the wafer thin resumes) is more likely to deliver a conservative agenda than Trump. Ben Carson and Carly Fiornia? We just don’t know. Jeb Bush? Please. He represents the problem. Scott Walker? Based on his staffing decisions it is difficult to see him more than the Establishment Plan B if Jeb Bush melts down.
You don’t have to embrace Trump to understand what is propelling his candidacy forward and even sympathize with that impulse.
Would Trump be a great president? Probably not. But I don’t see any great presidents emerging from this field. But would a Trump presidency with a McConnell Senate and Boehner House be any less likely to enact a conservative agenda than a Cruz presidency with the same characters running Congress? I think not.