There’s still time to turn it around, of course, but now that many conservatives are moving from the bargaining to the depression phase of the Kübler-Ross cycle, we can begin to grapple with the prospective reality of a Trump-versus-Hillary general election.
If you’re an ideological conservative, a proponent of limited government, or someone who believes that the president has too much power already, you shouldn’t think of this matchup as a contest between horrifying candidates. Rather, you should ask yourself, “Which scenario would be more damaging?” I’m pretty sure you’ll find that Donald Trump is the form of the Destructor.
But Hillary is the worst, most evil, liberal ever!
Yes. You should be counting on it. Hillary, as you may have noticed, does not have the charisma of Barack Obama. Not only will she be divisive and ethically compromised, but Hillary will also galvanize the Right. Her presidency — even more now that she’s dropped the pretense of centrism — would reinforce the traditional ideological distinctions we’ve debated for years. Republicans would almost certainly unite against her agenda, which will be little more than codifying Obama’s legacy — a collection of policies that half the country still hates.
She won’t be able to pass anything substantive. The most likely outcome is another four to eight years of trench warfare in D.C., with a number of winnable, state-level issues for conservatives. Probably, if historical disposition of the electorate holds, a Republican Congress. (Who knows what happens to Congress if Trump is elected.) Hardly ideal. But unless you believe that an active Washington is the best Washington, gridlock is not the end of the world.
The myth that Democrats get everything will persist. But despite plenty of well-earned criticism, the GOP has been a more effective minority party than constituents give them credit for. People are frustrated, but the idealists have (had?) been gaining ground since the Tea Party emerged. Their presence has put a stop to an array of progressive reform efforts that the pre-2010 GOP would surely have gone along with.
With a Trump presidency this dynamic disintegrates.
Just as some Republicans are already warming to the idea of his candidacy, the temptation in Congress to follow Trumpism — a philosophy based on the vagaries of one man — will be strong. Trump’s inclination is never to free Americans from the state (“we’re gonna take care of everybody!”) but rather to do a better job administering the state through great deals and assertive leadership. Or, everything the Founders didn’t want the presidency to be.
So while gridlock will still hold up most issues conservatives do care about, chances are high, considering his long history of supporting big government, that Trump would try and cobble together a populist coalition for polices they hate. This will end up marginalizing ideological conservatism from within the party.
I mean, what will Reaganites gain from this presidency? The idea that Trump could dismantle Obamacare — when he backs many of its components and has yet to offer any genuine ideas about how he’s going to do it — is a fantasy. The idea that Trump would name originalists to the Supreme Court is equally risible when you consider that Trump has shown absolutely no clue or inclination to understand what originalism entails.
There is little question Trump would abuse power. In some way, it’s the point of his candidacy. The thing that gets his admirers excited. “Finally, someone who will use the IRS for us. Someone who will circumvent Congress for us. Obama gets everything; why shouldn’t we?”
Some Republicans, already complicit in looking the other way on executive overreach, will likely be enablers — especially when it comes to issues they can get behind, like immigration. Maybe no one cares about free markets and constitutional idealism anymore. The working class is mad! How dare you disrespect its concerns?
There’s a difference between caring about the plight of working stiffs and embracing isolationism, high tariffs, and other policies that would destroy their long-term prospects. Is everyone supposed to surrender to mercantilism because it makes 30 percent of angry voters feel better? You can’t let a mob run your party. And it’s not a mob because it’s hyper-populist or constructed around a cult of celebrity or even because it’s angry — though all those things are true. The problem is that it’s incoherent and nihilistic.
“I hate Jeb Bush, so I’m going to vote for Donald Trump and burn your whole party down” is a non sequitur.
It’s worth pointing out that the chances of protectionist policies passing — with a bipartisan coalition of progressives and right-protectionists — are far higher under Trump than Clinton. Why should free traders help facilitate this kind of disaster? So they can brag about having a Republican president?
None of this is to argue the conservative movement or the Republican Party is in good shape, that the status quo is working well, or that the leadership doesn’t deserve what’s coming. I’m not saying someone shouldn’t blow up the Republican Party. I’m saying that that someone shouldn’t be an unprincipled imposter. Because at some point there’s going to be a counterrevolution. Those who swear up and down that they would never vote for Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio because they aren’t conservative enough shouldn’t be surprised that a large faction on the Right (more than likely, the larger faction on the Right) won’t support a candidate who is adversarial to its belief system.
To support Trump would be an exercise in pure partisanship. For conservatives, it would mean facilitating their own destruction. It makes no sense.