My colleague Ben Domenech was one of the many smart conservative and libertarians writers who took part in National Review’s symposium on Trump. He, like many of the others, offered a measured piece, rationally pointing out the multitude of reasons Donald Trump is neither conservative, principled, nor equipped to be the president. I hope it’ll matter.
I did notice, though, as I read through the pieces that I felt far less charitable than most of the writers towards Trump’s supporters—perhaps the most sensitive constituency to ever appear in American politics.
Trumpism is an ideology that judges all things on how they interact with Donald Trump. As a result, it is completely disconnected from any cogent philosophy or moral worldview. And though Trump’s fans characterize anyone who notes that the word clouds coming out of the candidate’s mouth are incoherent platitude-infused puffs of gibberish as snobby, monocle-wearing, America-hating elite, all I’m saying is that if you’re shopping around for a dictator, you can do a lot better than Donald Trump.
American politics has become a giant appeal to the base emotions of envy and/or anger—depending on what party you happen to be in. And Republican primary voters are about to bring every liberal fantasy about their regressive, anti-intellectualism, to vivid life. There are many rational people on the right who either justify or are sympathetic to this movement for understandable reasons: They’re sick of corruption. Sick of the frauds and the failed promises. Sick of the abuses of the other party. Republicans want their own Obama.
But all of that is somewhat of a non sequitur. If the average Republican, who incessantly grumbles about establishment politicians with no principles, ends up supporting a demagogue with none, what can constitutional conservative and small–l libertarians do but oppose him? It’s not as if we’re not constantly making idealistic arguments about liberty and principle, about free markets and the value of life, about the importance of mitigating the excesses of state power. They don’t care. At all.
The ugly reality of the right-wing electorate might be that a majority (this includes the Trumpkins, rent-seeking donor class, those who rarely pay attention, etc.) doesn’t give one whit about Buckley-ite conservatism anymore. The other day, Rush Limbaugh pondered whether “nationalism and populism have overtaken conservatism in terms of appeal.” Maybe. But if it has, America is going to need another party. Maybe two.
After all, the party Republicans have right now is a joke. It helped create this mess: on one hand making promises that created exceedingly unrealistic expectations, and on the other exhibiting cowardice and incompetence when it needed to fight. Maybe Trump fans are right about the “establishment.” Take the RNC, for example, which booted National Review from an upcoming debate for taking an editorial line against Trump. Sean Spicer of the RNC—the organization that thought John Harwood was an acceptable moderator in 2015 and that former Clinton White House staffer George Stephanopoulos was a worthy moderator in 2011—says that NR was dis-invited because a “debate moderator can’t have a predisposition.” The flagship outlet of modern conservatism (and it should be noted that the symposium carried pieces from virtually every major conservative publication) won’t do because it has taken an editorial line on the presidency.
I understand the practical political concerns the professional political class has to consider. Voters to capture. Angry constituents to pacify. The entire edifice of Washington is built on winning elections. And without it the conservative project (and I speak of it in the broadest sense) is useless. But is every victory worthwhile?
Maybe every other candidate is awful. That doesn’t explain how a principled libertarian or constitutional conservative could back a Trump candidacy. So why should we keep acting like his fans are on the same side of an ideological divide? They’re not. Being angry and frustrated is not a political position. Everyone is angry and frustrated. After the anger you have to make choices.
Me? I’m just going to continue to support the greatest tool of liberty and decency in American political life: gridlock.