Principled conservatism and constitutionalism are inseparable. Being a principled conservative simply means you fight for the ideas of our founding. Ideas that did, in many cases, not fully materialize until much later when slavery was abolished in the 1860s. And again, when American exceptionalism began to take hold in the 1950s & in the 1960s when the Civil Rights movement worked to ensure all Americans would be protected equally.
In the three eras referenced above, and in many more unnamed here, Republicans led the way. The party of freedom. The party of founding principles.
Under Ronald Reagan, the Republican Party was rescued from Nixonian Establishmentarianism, and became the home for conservatism. Conservatism was an ideal that jibed quite well with the concept of a capitalist society ruled by its own people. Its roots were in Classical Liberalism and for so many of the people out marching in the streets in 2009 against the growing specter of government spending, these principles were the guiding light to cut through the biased noise of the 24/7 news cycle and the iron grip of the Establishment GOP who seemed intent on ignoring the principles they’d often espouse on the campaign trail.
In the early days of the modern Tea Party, “principled conservatism” was discussed so often it became a joke among that elite class. Beltway Republicans would point out from their bubble and mock the so-called arbiters of “true conservatism” proudly referring to themselves as RINOs to take wind out of the derogatory designation they all shared.
Back then, John McCain or Mitch McConnell would be called out when they wouldn’t stand with the base in whatever our latest effort was. “You aren’t a principled conservative!” we’d cry to them.
Their mockery of these cries grew more and more disdainful over time. And conversely, rage built inside the conservative base who, especially upon the nomination and subsequent electoral loss of Mitt Romney, began to shift from focusing on the underlying principles of conservatism, and more on the lack of respect and consideration from spineless elites who considered themselves our “betters.”
The election of Donald Trump was, in a lot of ways, inevitable given this trajectory. He embodied “fighting back” for a lot of people because Donald Trump says what he thinks no matter how much it bothers anyone else, and apparently had so much money he was unable to be purchased by the special interests that seemed to control so many other candidates and politicians.
But from the moment of his announcement, there was a divide that formed in the previously aligned conservative base. Many, like myself, were concerned that Trump’s act was just that. An act. And that without any underlying principles, and given his penchant for erratic and childish behavior, he not only couldn’t be trusted with the leadership of an already weak GOP, but might very well be too unstable to be president at all.
Whereas previously the base had two major identifying characteristics — 1. a devotion to returning to conservative principles, and 2. an upsetting of the Establishment elite class — the split in the base was quite easily categorized. One part took the “conservative principles” and the other took the “anger at the Establishment.”
Certainly there are people who straddle the fence on these two categories. Some might prefer an argument for conservative principles over bucking the Establishment, but often their devotion to these principles creates a wishful thinking of sorts. They will ignore all the signs Donald Trump’s brand of “Anti-Establishment” populism works against the credibility of conservative arguments by noting that “the Democrats are worse” or some other such rationalization.
For others, “conservative principles” has become a joke. They mock it with memes that say “but muh constitution” and so on, believing apparently that devotion to principles is useless as long as the spineless are in charge.
But as Trump continues to get in his own way and often becomes the primary reason certain conservative objectives don’t get over the finish line, the Anti-Establishment camp has begun to parrot a false portrayal of alliances in order to offer defenses of Trump’s failures.
Despite the fact that Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, John McCain and others have always conducted themselves in precisely the way they conduct themselves, writers like Kurt Schlichter have begun to conflate their ‘RINOism” (which we all collectively called out for years side-by-side) with what they now mock as the “muh principles” crowd. They say conservative principles are a joke.
In other words, because I am in the “conservative principles” portion of the split base and Schlichter is in the “Anti-Establishment” part, he, along with many others who spirit common cause with him, have grouped us all together as the collective “opposition.” So now Mitch McConnell’s failures are MY failures and my alleged posturing of true conservatism is Mitch McConnell’s posturing.
We’re all the same all of the sudden. We all want the same elitist, beltway, crony-capitalist, do-nothing government. And we’re all doing it under the false pretense of “muh principles.”
I’ve not had faith in the ability of Congress to do anything remotely close to championing conservatism for much longer than Donald Trump has been a viable political force. And I’ve been yelling and marching and writing and protesting for a return to conservative principles since long long before Mitch McConnell was Majority Leader or Paul Ryan was Speaker.
The truth of the matter is that this conflation of groups is a convenient way to ignore what a dumpster fire Trump has proven himself to be. The Anti-Establishment crowd worships only at the alter of “liberal tears” and Trump is nothing if not the greatest deliverer of liberal tears that has ever existed.
But from time to time they are cornered by the fact that much of their “fight” isn’t accomplishing anything conservative. So the easiest way to battle that is to claim that “principles” don’t work. The proof? “Just look at Congress!” they’ll say. Despite the fact that just a few years ago, they were screaming for a return to them just as I do.
The weak-kneed in the House & Senate haven’t changed how they do things. The “muh principles” crowd, of which I am proudly a part of, haven’t changed anything either. I still think they do nothing and they still think I’m idealistic.
The only thing that’s really changed is priority. For years the priority was a return to the principles I’m discussing in this column. That our objectives were stalled by elitists was frustrating but it was not the point.
So when Donald Trump came along to tarnish conservatism, the Anti-Establishment crowd couldn’t pretend he was conservative. So they just gave up the pretense, said “he’s not”, scream joygasms every time he said “fake news”, called everyone who opposed him “Establishment” and will continue to do so as long as there are liberal tears to drink.
It doesn’t do anything. It doesn’t get government closer to conservative ideals. It doesn’t win elections. It doesn’t solve problems.
It’s the manifestation of the troll mentality. The idea that it’s good enough to “upset” people regardless of if there is any outcome remotely close to victory for ideas. And for the current crop of “conservative” pundocrats, this is demonstrated by belittling anyone who has issues with Donald Trump as bitterly clinging to the childish notion that principles should matter.
This attitude is precisely what was called out as elitist just a few years ago. John McCain famously called us “hobbits” a few years back, and those pundits who are now mocking the notion of “true conservatism” were fiercely fighting back against that attitude. We all agreed at that time that patronization of a desire to uphold a set of principles is something that only the unprincipled would do.
How right we were.