Dear movement conservatives presently supporting neither Donald Trump nor Ted Cruz,
“A republic, if you can keep it,” Benjamin Franklin once famously quipped in describing the handiwork of the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. “If [we] can keep it,” indeed.
We movement conservatives presently stand at a crossroads. For those of us deeply committed to the ideological and philosophical moorings of our movement—a Burkean skepticism of “sophisters” and “calculators,” a Hayekian eschewing of would-be grand ambitions in favor of the free market’s “spontaneous order,” a Kirkean emphasis in transcendent natural order and private property sanctity, and a Buckleyite synthesis of traditionalism, constitutionalism, laissez-faire, and anti-totalitarianism (be it communism or jihad) alike—there is simply no getting around the obvious fact that Donald Trump is not only anathema, but indeed represents an existential threat.
I am immensely grateful to National Review and to its current Editor, Rich Lowry, for having the courage to publish their recent “Against Trump” symposium. The symposium contributors, alongside the editors’ own editorial contribution, eloquently make the rather straightforward case that Donald Trump is not one of us. I agree with virtually every word, and Buckley himself would have been proud. Absent his claimed “road to Damascus” moment wherein he purportedly came to disavow most of his prior beliefs, Donald Trump has simply never walked with us. And besides never showing any appreciation for our movement’s philosophical precepts or otherwise fighting for our values in any meaningful way, the totality of his life’s work and creed has actually been in opposition to that which we hold dear. He openly brags about buying off politicians. He speaks in rather crude terms of the panoply of women with whom he has slept—both extra-maritally and in-between marriages. He robustly defends eminent domain, and still waxes poetic about the wonders of socialized medicine. He offers no hint of appreciation whatsoever for the Constitution’s structural securing of liberty via both federalism and the separation of powers. And so on.
And yet, here we are, less than one week before Iowans caucus, and this big-government faux-conservative demagogic fraudster has complemented his polling lead in virtually every state not named “Iowa” by regaining a narrow lead in the Hawkeye State itself. There are certainly plenty of lessons the Republican Party must learn, and plenty of hard truths it must grapple with, if it is to ever meaningfully reemerge from this largely self-inflicted nadir. The open-borders agenda must be quashed, and the Party needs to do a far better job of connecting with culturally conservative but economically disaffected “Reagan Democrats” across the Rust Belt and the South.
But the learning of those lessons is not our most immediate concern, and I humbly exhort my fellow movement conservatives to awaken to the gravity of the present moment. Let us be clear: our movement is just, our values sound, our overarching skeptical approach to human nature justified. Our movement is worth fighting for. If conservatism is to retain philosophical fidelity and intellectual rigor—if it is to remain faithful to limited-government constitutionalism and ordered liberty, to the thriving civil society which can best promote the shrinking of the Washington Leviathan, to a moral clarity which staunchly opposes both cultural deterioration at home and apocalyptic jihadist subjugation abroad—then our immediate task is simple: Donald Trump must be stopped.
If Donald Trump wins in Iowa, it is extremely difficult to foresee a scenario in which his cartoonish obsession with Charlie Sheen-style #winning does not metastasize into a self-fulfilling prophecy. He has had a double-digit lead in New Hampshire since shortly after entering the race, and he would go on to easily win New Hampshire. There is very little reason to feel confident about the prospect that he then might be caught in South Carolina, where polling has been more sporadic but the RealClearPolitics average still shows him holding a comfortable lead. At which point, having already won a barometric Bible Belt state wherein a strong majority of Republican primary voters self-identify as evangelical Christians, it would probably all be over before we even made it to March 1’s so-called “S.E.C. Primary.”
While murmurs from the Rubio camp seem to suggest they think their candidate can ride his Des Moines Register endorsement all the way to a victory in the caucuses, though, there is very little reason to doubt the past two months’ clear emergence of two-horse dynamic in Iowa between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. Trump has no doubt regained the upper hand over Cruz in Iowa polling, whereas Cruz indisputably has the better ground game operation and grassroots network spread across each of Iowa’s 99 counties. There is plenty of reason to think that, despite the past week of Iowa polling, Cruz can still defeat Trump in Iowa and thus preclude the commencement of the series of unfortunate events leading to the very Trump nomination which would existentially wound the conservative movement we all hold near and dear. But absent a truly stunning turn of events, Cruz quite simply is, at this point, the only hope of stopping Donald Trump in Iowa.
It is with this in mind that I humbly urge all principled movement conservatives affiliated with presidential candidates who are neither Donald Trump nor Ted Cruz to seriously consider instructing their Iowa supporters to caucus for Ted Cruz on Monday, February 1.
I readily disclose here that I am an open and proud supporter of Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign. I have been a loyal supporter of the campaign since last April, I am a long-time fan of Senator Cruz’s, and I think he would make a terrific President.
But this moment simply must rise above parochial candidate loyalty. I am a concerned American citizen first, a devoted grassroots activist committed to the post-Kirk/Buckley conservative movement second, and a Cruz partisan somewhere much further down the list. My fellow conservatives must understand that this entreaty is not about helping Ted Cruz; it is about stopping Donald Trump and saving American conservatism from being hijacked by a “philosophically unmoored political opportunist who would trash the broad conservative ideological consensus within the GOP in favor of a free-floating populism with strong-man overtones.”
I understand that plenty of other campaigns’ conservatives hate Ted Cruz, on a personal level. Get over it. I understand that plenty of other campaigns would never unilaterally disarm like this and risk some sort of embarrassing collective-action failure. So coordinate appropriately. This moment is bigger than me, and it is bigger than you. This moment is bigger than any one of the individual candidates. If you accept, as I do, that a Trump win in Iowa most likely sets him up on a clear path to the nomination—a premise that The Weekly Standard’s Jay Cost gently pushes back upon, in an analysis which I find historically ungrounded and frankly too sanguine—then there is simply no time at all to waste. This is where the line must be drawn. Iowa polling has historically not always been the most reliable, but the downside risk of the present polling being accurate is catastrophically bad news for the conservative movement.
To be clear, I am not in any way suggesting that any other specific candidate needs to drop out entirely. (Though perhaps some lesser candidates should.) Iowa has only 30 delegates at stake, after all, and it makes perfect sense to me why Jeb Bush, John Kasich, and Chris Christie are all pinning their hopes to New Hampshire. So be it. But just what, exactly, would these other candidates all be trying to prove in New Hampshire, if Trump wins Iowa? At what juncture would they anticipate slowing down Trump’s post-Iowa win self-fulfilling prophecy? Does either Jeb Bush or John Kasich think he could beat Donald Trump in South Carolina, while the well-funded campaigns of both Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio would remain? Does either Bush or Kasich then think he could stop Trump in the “S.E.C. Primary”?
From the perspective of Marco Rubio or any of the other more establishment-friendly candidates pushing for strong performances in New Hampshire, moreover, they should all rather Cruz win Iowa than Trump win Iowa. Cruz winning Iowa would stop Trump’s inevitability factor and incentivize Trump’s more moderate/liberal supporters—who form the crux of his base in the Granite State—to look elsewhere for someone who can go toe-to-toe with Cruz in subsequent contests. Even if Trump were to still win New Hampshire and South Carolina, moreover, he would still be a less formidable foe for the last establishment-friendly candidate standing than if Trump had won all three of Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. And finally, given the Republican establishment’s recently well–chronicled preference for the malleable non-conservative Trump over the limited-government stalwart Cruz, each of the more establishment-friendly candidates should welcome a possible one-on-one with Cruz more than they should welcome a possible one-on-one with Trump for the simple fact that the former scenario would make the last Rubio/Bush/Kasich/Christie candidate standing the more clearly unvarnished beneficiary of the Republican establishment’s well-greased structural backing.
So not only does principled anti-Trump conservatism urge this sort of selflessness, but so do each of the more establishment-friendly candidates’ own rational self-interests. And what about the lesser candidates of Rand Paul, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, and Rick Santorum—candidates who have no shot at all in New Hampshire and who are polling somewhere between 1% and 4% in Iowa? Doesn’t Rand Paul want to go back to Kentucky to campaign for reelection to the U.S. Senate on the admirable note of selflessly taking himself out of the Iowa running to keep the Republican Party’s distinctive conservatism from being ruined by a two-bit carnival showman? As former Iowa caucus winners and formidable culture warriors, do Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum not have any personal or pro–life pride left? Does Carly Fiorina want to be remembered as the person who could stop neither Hewlett-Packard’s slide into computer hardware irrelevance nor the Republican Party’s demise into Trumpian non-conservatism?
I understand a bit more why Marco Rubio and Ben Carson’s campaigns would be particularly hesitant to adopt this strategy. Rubio’s campaign not-unreasonably still views itself as a top-three operation alongside Trump and Cruz, and for reasons that absolutely baffle me, Carson’s campaign is still a fundraising juggernaut. In particular, though, Ben Carson’s heavily evangelical Iowa support base would naturally flock to Cruz if so instructed. I hope that principled movement conservatives within the Carson campaign have this much-needed internal talk. But if you are one of the lesser (Paul/Fiorina/Huckabee/Santorum) candidates or one of the non-Rubio establishment (Bush/Kasich/Christie) candidates, you need to ask yourself this: is fighting over meaningless 1-2% marginal market share in a crowded Iowa caucus field worth the potentially existential blow to the modern American conservative movement that would quite likely follow a Trump victory?
This is the do-or-die moment for the American conservative movement. Read the exceptional National Review “Conservatives against Trump” symposium. Read it again. Let it sink in. The stakes are high, and, as a wise man once said, the time for choosing is real.
In modern politics, virtue is often in short supply. Principled movement conservatives currently affiliated with neither Donald Trump nor Ted Cruz cannot afford to merely sit on the sidelines of this existential struggle in Iowa. Donald Trump simply must be stopped next Monday, in order to ensure he will not have a runaway nomination victory. Conservative Iowans who are still considering caucusing for anyone not named Ted Cruz have a chance to do the virtuous thing, which here means caucusing for Cruz in order to stop Trump dead in his tracks. It is what each of Locke, Madison, Burke, Hayek, Kirk, Buckley, Goldwater, and Reagan would have wanted.
In the interim, I will be hoping and, indeed, praying, for Ted Cruz’s chances on Monday in Iowa.