The 2016 election has polarized the Republican Party and threatens to tear it apart. Some are worried that a Trump presidency dooms the GOP, but the real threat is the intransigence of the political elites who refuse to see the opportunities Trump’s popularity presents.
The GOP has a chance to expand its ranks (pulling in blue-collar voters, moderates, and independents) if it would only respect Trump supporters and admit how it has failed to push back against the progressive agenda that has threatened the security and prosperity of our nation. Instead, the #NeverTrump movement is slashing and burning, refusing to rebuild bridges that many of them broke in the first place.
The party is clearly in a state of realignment. This has happened throughout American history as shifts and changes in voter behavior have formed new coalitions and parties while others have disappeared. The lesson to be learned from history as well as our current circumstances is to respect the voters and recognize that changes need to be made. The party that is pliable will adapt and grow. The party that fails to listen and change will break apart.
Just a few weeks after Donald Trump officially entered the race to become president, I wrote a post explaining why voters were supporting him—they’re fed up with Washington politicians and they’re angry. Support for Trump, I explained, is born of frustration over a political ruling class that has failed to represent the American people and push back against a leftist agenda that has been transforming our country from a land of liberty to one of oppression.
I wrote that post—“Angry Taxpayers, Not Stupid People, Are Backing Donald Trump”—because so many people seemed confused about why others would support an arrogant businessman who refused to play by the established political rules. My colleague Tom Nichols was one example. He believed Trump’s rise had nothing to do with establishment failures; he thought it had to do with “the rise of a ghastly celebrity culture, an unfocused but intense anger at President Obama, and the low political literacy of a substantial number of American voters. None of these things are within the control of the Republican Party or any other, and if the GOP tries to ‘learn the lessons’ of the Trump campaign, it will torpedo its chances of producing a competitive candidate in 2016.”
Yet that’s just the problem. After all these months, the GOP has not learned the lessons, and instead of getting a clue, too many seem to be doubling down on the “it’s everyone else’s fault” mantra.
Angry at Trump, Rather than the Left
Nichols argued that Trump supporters “embrace being the underdog because it gives them a sense of importance and specialness that comes from believing they are in an ongoing struggle with The Man or The System or The Cartel. Thus they love it when The Donald says things like ‘everybody is stupid,’ because that’s how they feel all the time.”
This kind of condescending rhetoric hasn’t changed, not from people like Nichols and not from other establishment apologists. At first, the political elites scoffed at the populists, denigrating and attacking them, then they tried to ignore them, and now they’re frothing-at-the-mouth angry, calling them all kinds of names and vowing never to support Trump if he wins the nomination. They’ve written treatises, posts, and tweets declaring how they’re “against Trump” and how anyone who supports him is an idiot or a fascist. They’ve even composed a blacklist of conservatives who support Trump.
I stand amazed as I see more energy and ire coming from political elites in their fight against Trump than I ever saw in the last seven years in response to a president who has used his power in Sauron-like style to dismantle and transform America from a city on a hill to a dark Orwellian dystopia. Even now, as the cultural Marxists disrupt campaign rallies, the political elites are angrier at Trump and his “Trumpkins” than terrorist Bill Ayers and MoveOn.org, led by Dr. Evil himself, George Soros, who were the ones responsible for the protests.
Sen. David Perdue (R-Georgia) has observed that the political elites just don’t get it, not after all this time: “Washington political establishment has hit the panic button,” and it’s not because they’re afraid of any one candidate, but “because they are afraid of losing their own political power.”
This is exactly the point. This has always been about a power struggle between the establishment and the voters who are fed up with their condescension and their impotency in the war against the Left. As I wrote last August, this is the “GOP’s fault—it’s the fault of all politicians who are either protecting the status quo or pushing us into even more tyranny.”
People are more angry now than they have been because they have been pushed and pushed and pushed. Let me explain a little something about human nature. When someone feels oppressed and controlled and you continue to belittle them and push them against the wall, they get angry. They’re not going to be particularly rational at that point. They’re in a corner and they lash out—that’s human nature. They fight. They get angry. They grab hold of whatever weapon they can find to defend themselves.
That’s what you mostly see with Trump. It’s anger, fueled by fear and stoked by insiders who continue to demean the base, who refuse to listen, and who want to maintain the status quo.
As I watch what’s happening with the Trump phenomenon, I see it not just from a political point of view, but from a human one. Nichols says supporters of Trump and Tea Partiers are just a bunch of petty “pedestrian” narcissists who like to play the victim—they’re just stupid, enraged idiots. He’s wrong.
I compared this political conflict to a toxic relationship between a man and a woman in which the man continues to control the woman and whenever she tries to exert herself, she is beaten down and called stupid. Over time, she gets fed up and burns the whole house to the ground.
Hopelessness and helplessness lead to destruction. Always. Who’s at fault in this situation? Is it the irrational, angry woman who burns the house to the ground? Or is it the man who has pushed her, controlled her, ridiculed her, stolen her liberty, and caused her to live in fear for years? If you think it’s the woman’s fault, then you know nothing of human nature. The inside‐the‐Beltway types might know a lot about policy, but they know little of human nature. It will be their downfall. Sadly, though, it may be the downfall of us all.
Stop Shouting and Start Listening
More likely, this conflict will lead to the downfall of the Republican Party, which is controlled by status-quo politicians who cozy up to cultural Marxists and their agenda to transform America.
Perdue writes, “No matter who the Republican presidential nominee is at the end of this process, one thing is clear, we cannot allow Democrats to double down on the failed policies of the last seven years. A better course of action would be a candid examination of what can be done to regain the trust of the American people. Let’s start with simply listening to them.”
Yes, the political and media elite need to start listening to the American people, but the American people have stopped listening to them. The trust is broken. The vitriol that is pouring from the establishment talking heads today is only throwing fuel on the fire because it’s clear they’re mostly concerned about protecting party interests and holding onto their own power than saving the country.
To be fair, that’s not true of everyone in the #NeverTrump movement. There are people who are genuinely concerned about a Trump presidency, and they want him stopped. But even these people seem confused about the solution. They’re caught up in the establishment whirlwind by focusing all their energy on being “against Trump” and for party cohesion. They worry over factions and party disunity, and they urge John Kasich to stay in the race so the convention will be brokered and a GOP-approved candidate will be nominated.
Don’t Fight Against Populists, Fight for the Constitution
Whether you’re in the establishment clinging to power or part of the #NeverTrump campaign fixated on stopping the “crazy populists,” you’re not offering any real solution to the problems we are facing today. That’s because you’re caught in false dilemma of either being “against populism” or “for elitism.”
There’s another choice, and this is the one that needs to be championed—not as an afterthought but as the clear, distinct message that needs to be ringing across the land from conversations with our neighbors, to blogging, to tweeting, to television and radio. The real solution is standing for conservatism, for the Constitution, and fighting for a return to our founding principles.
This isn’t just rhetoric. This is the real answer to both the rise of populism and the most virulent enemy we face today—progressivism and its Marxist transformation of America. Sadly, conservatives have been lumped in with the establishment, and while we’re sympathetic to the populists, we know Trump is not the leader we need.
We are not French revolutionaries wanting to dismantle the system and rebuild something new in the name of equality and unity. We are the American revolutionaries who simply want to be free by returning to the principles that work and rebuilding our political institutions so voters have a say in the government and we’re not ruled by elites on the Left or the Right.
If you’re concerned about the tyranny of the Left or potential despotism born of populist nationalism, then there is only one answer. It’s not doing whatever it takes to keep a political party viable, it’s not waiting to make power plays at the convention, it’s not berating voters by calling them or their candidate names, and it’s not about simply opposing Trump. It’s about standing for what actually does make America great—limited government, the Constitution, and conservative principles that respect the liberties and rights of all Americans.
Compromise Isn’t the Way to Peace
If you can’t bring yourself to actually stand for conservatism and the one real conservative candidate left in the race, then you’re perpetuating the problem. Not only are you paving the way for the Left to gain even more power with the election of Hillary Clinton, you are egging on the French revolutionary populists who are more concerned with destroying the current system than saving the country as founded.
While the tumult of this election season is disturbing to many, our focus should not be on bringing unity and fraternity. That might sound counterintuitive, but hear me out. Unlike the French who desired unity and concord above all else (even to the point of creating an assembly with only one house), the Americans (especially Thomas Jefferson) understood that liberty comes in the midst of tumult and competing interests. He rightly believed that we could only remain free when we fight for it on a continuous basis, even if that means we have to spill blood for our liberty. James Madison believed tumult in the form of public debate is the engine of freedom. It’s ugly, messy, and even unseemly at times, but it’s necessary.
The key isn’t to quiet the storm but to know what we’re fighting for. What will ultimately bring us out of the tumult and into community? Is it compromising with transformative Marxists? Is it propping up political parties? Is it rallying around a savior who promises to unite the country around nationalistic pride? Is it silencing those we don’t agree with and then forcing our agenda on them instead of letting the process work?
It’s none of these things. The only thing we should be fighting for is our founding principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Our unity is our shared commitment to these core democratic values, to limited government, to a republic that is energized by political differences and even ideological division. At the end of the day, we are focused on those core values that unite us. This is what E pluribus unum looks like. The one is our commitment to those principles that give us the freedom to be different.
This is the message of conservatism. This is the solution. This is our only hope.