As a Tea Party constitutional conservative, I’ve been asked many times this primary season what I’m going to do if Donald Trump is the Republican nominee for president. Like many conservatives, I struggle with a Trump candidacy because he’s not a principled conservative and he’s manipulating emotions within the electorate much in the same way as Barack Obama.
Given Trump’s weaknesses and the choice of much better candidates, I have not supported him for president. However, I have never been a part of the #NeverTrump campaign, either. Contrary to my colleagues in the media who refuse to vote for Trump, I don’t believe he’s the devil, nor do I think his unprincipled populism is more dangerous or even just as dangerous at this point as Clinton’s cultural Marxism and radical leftism.
The Left’s progressive agenda is too ingrained in our institutions, culturally and politically, for it to be so casually dismissed. Populism is a virus we’ve just recently caught. Cultural Marxism and the politically correct agenda of the Progressive Left is a cancer that has infiltrated every part of our nation—all levels of education, pop culture, public policy, and the administrative state. It’s deeply embedded and has real power.
I say this knowing full well the dangers of a nationalistic, mob-like populism that is rooted not in principles but in emotion. History has taught us that we can’t let it spread unchecked. This is why I’ve supported Ted Cruz, who is the only principled conservative in the race and has been ever since Rand Paul dropped out.
Trump Is Exploiting Us
This does not make me a part of the establishment. This does not make me a political elite or an insider. I’m as grassroots as they come, often explaining Trump’s popularity to establishment types who just don’t get the billionaire’s appeal, and who—to this day—refuse to recognize their culpability in the decline of the GOP and rise of this populist wave.
As much as I understand the ethos of the Trump phenomenon, however, I’m still not on board. Populism devoid of principle is a serious problem as mass anger about legitimate problems is channeled toward unhealthy solutions. The frustrating thing about Trump’s campaign has been how he took a perfectly good opportunity to build on the dissatisfaction of everyday Republicans and squandered it, principally speaking. Not only did he waste it, he exploited it.
Instead of bringing unity and focusing on real solutions to our nation’s ills (like reducing the size and scope of the federal government), he has made unreasonable promises that only expand presidential power and has stoked anger and frustration, turning people against the democratic republican system itself and threatening to tear it—and the nation—apart just to “win.”
So, what is a conservative like me to do? I’ve been sympathetic to Trump supporters, but I remain to this day steadfast in my commitment to conservative principles. I am also painfully aware of the damage the Left has done and will continue to do to our nation as it marches us ever toward a future where individual liberty is replaced by communitarianism in one form or another.
After much thought and soul-searching, this is the conclusion I’ve come to. As imperfect as it is, I hope it will help those of you who are also struggling with what to do if Trump wins the nomination. I want unity, but I also want conservatism to survive the days to come, hopefully rising from the ashes through creative destruction, growing stronger so that one day there will be a resurgence of liberty that truly makes America exceptional again.
Switch From #NeverTrump to #NeverHillary
My conservative roadmap to a Trump candidacy comes in three parts. These must work in concert to be truly effective. First, the focus of the general election from Cleveland onward is to defeat Hillary Clinton. #NeverHillary must be our unrelenting, unified focus. We need to expose her for the lying, corrupt, and incompetent loser she has been and always will be. Done are the days when we speak softly to Democrats. No more capitulation in debates. No more fear about what “the independents” might think. We go all-out against Hillary.
I want to see the same passion, the same ire, the same hostility that many have leveled against Trump in this primary season directed solely against Hillary. I want our national campaigns to be full of attack ads, exposing her for the fraud she is. If there were ever a time for the Right to use Alinsky-style tactics, now is the time. We will show no mercy. It’s time to unleash the hounds of hell on the Democratic Party.
You might be noticing that I’m not saying you need to go out and campaign “For Trump.” I realize conservatives might think a #NeverHillary campaign would mean they’re compromising on their principles. That’s a fallacy in an election when you have only these two choices, and, yes, staying home or voting for an unknown gives an advantage to Hillary; you have to score to win. My message to those of you conflicted about this is: you don’t have to compromise your principles in a general election, because defeating Hillary is advancing the conservative agenda. A strategic vote can still be rooted in principle.
Of course, this argument will hold no water if you truly believe Hillary is a better candidate than Trump. If, as I’ve heard from some Republican colleagues, you believe Trump is more dangerous than Hillary, then you can go your own way, and we can agree to disagree. I wish you well. I, on the other hand, have not forgotten who the real enemy is, and it’s the radical Left. A vote against that agenda is, in itself, a vote for conservatism.
This doesn’t mean I think Trump is a conservative knight in shining armor (although I hope against all hope he will turn out to be just that), but keeping Hillary out of the White House is a blow to the progressive Left. With the Supreme Court hanging in the balance, that’s a victory for conservatives. This point alone should sober up some of those in the #NeverTrump crowd who understand the power of the courts in today’s society.
Protect the Down-Ticket
Second, we focus too much energy and effort on the presidential election and not enough on other races. We do live in a republic and not a monarchy, so let’s make that count for something.
This year, conservatives need to campaign like hell for their local representatives, congressmen, senators, and governors. Focus on the down-ticket races. One thing I hear repeatedly is that if Trump is the nominee, all these contests will be lost—the GOP will burn from sea to shining sea. But this is a fear born out of the Barry Goldwater years and doesn’t have to be a foregone conclusion. We are not passive bystanders who are being swept away along the currents of history.
We can make a stand at the local and state level. No matter who the presidential nominee is, conservatives need to come out in droves and fight in those down-ticket races. Just because Trump is the nominee doesn’t mean conservative candidates for Congress need to go down in flames. No doubt, Democrats will try to associate every Republican candidate with Trump (and they’re already starting), but their success doesn’t have to be inevitable.
The reality is, if Trump is the nominee we’re going to have to deal with this. Attacking our own presidential candidate won’t help. We don’t necessarily need to defend him (particularly when he’s indefensible), but we can stand for our local candidates and fight for them, pushing back against their opposition. If Democrats try to smear them with Trump’s muck, expose the lies, relentlessly showing how the local Republican candidate is his own man (or woman) and tie Democratic candidates to the lies and corruption of Clinton.
We need to fight the fight and endorse conservatism in these other races where we have real choices. Give Republican candidates—especially those who believe in limited government—your time, money, and voice. Make the case in your states and towns that conservative legislators are what we need to get our nation back on track. Expose the Left’s conga line of failures without a moment’s hesitation.
Standing for local conservative candidates is important for many reasons. First, we can’t win if we don’t fight. Second, we need to stop putting so much energy into the presidency. The fact that we are so scared of who the president is going to be shows that the office has too much power. That needs to change. The only way that will change is if we put people in office who will challenge that authority and actually take steps to bring the balance of power back into alignment.
The fact is, Trump or Clinton won’t be able to abuse their power if they don’t have it. Political insiders are guilty of giving the president (both Democrats and Republicans) too much authority. They have also failed to reduce the size of the federal government, growing it until it overshadows the states and their sovereignty. That needs to change.
In this election season, we need to turn our attention to these down-ticket races and support the candidates there, no matter who is running for president. We will need men and women who are principled conservatives in those positions to actually defend our rights and liberties. The ultimate battle for our freedom will be at the state level, so we need to focus much of our energy there.
Time for Congress to Check the President
Finally, a strong conservative coalition needs to be established in Congress, as representatives and senators come together to hold the president to account for his or her decisions. Governors should also be a part of this coalition as conservatives work together to limit the federal government and empower the states. Whether the president is Clinton or Trump, it is clear that conservatism has lost its voice in our government. We have been too weak because we have been too divided, too timid, too compromising.
Republican politicians who really do care about the future of our nation and who understand that conservative principles will right the ship need to come together in a strong, vocal, and bold coalition to stand against anything that does not promote the cause of limited government and federalism.
There is precedent for this kind of coalition. In the 1790s, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison formed an anti-establishment (against the Federalists) coalition because they were concerned about the increasing size of the centralized government. They worked tirelessly through the 1790s against those who refused to recognize the sovereignty of the states and the individual liberties. The Federalists hated them and called them terrorists, but they never gave up.
As a result, they won the election of 1800—barely. The Federalist Party with its drift toward bigger government took a massive hit, which eventually led to its decline. In the years to come, the Federalist Party gave way to the Democratic Republican party of Jefferson and his commitment to decentralization and states’ rights.
The conservative coalition needs to be more than just a club or a toothless caucus. It needs to be a powerful force that is willing to shut down the government no matter who whines about it. Its members need to be united and committed to advancing Sen. Mike Lee’s Conservative Reform Agenda, hold the line when Rand Paul stands for civil liberties, and support the boldness of Cruz and others as they defy statists whether they have an R or a D behind their names. The coalition will have to be fearless, dauntless in the face of ridicule, and unified even in the darkest hours. The unwritten rule will always be: no conservative ever stands alone.
This powerful coalition, coupled with an energized base focused on winning local elections and bringing power back to the people, will hopefully give rise to a conservative resurgence in the future. Without such a resurgence, we will lose our country. We’ll lose it to radicals on the Left or the Right. Either way, our great nation will be lost, remembered only as a blip on the timeline of history, lost because our leaders were sunshine patriots instead of lovers of liberty, summer soldiers instead of sons of morning who bear the light of civilization.