It sure didn’t take long for Republicans in Washington to capitulate to Donald Trump. With the exception of House Speaker Paul Ryan, who is still not ready to endorse the presumptive nominee, the GOP establishment got on board the Trump train with little hesitation.
“He was terrific. I’ll tell you, I was really quite impressed,” said Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, who promptly endorsed Trump. “Voters are always right,” said Texas Sen. John Cornyn on Friday, adding he was “impressed” by Trump and that Republicans should fully support him. After the meeting, the senators all “took turns taking a photo with Trump, with the presumptive nominee giving a thumbs-up in all the pictures.”
The GOP establishment has decided, in other words, to make a deal with the dealmaker. Maybe they’ve concluded they have no choice now but to rent the party to Trump. Or, what’s more likely, they see how Trump is pulling in Democrats and Independents, and they believe a realignment is underway that could lead to victory in November and a stronger Republican Party than before. If the new GOP has to shed some of its scruples about spending and entitlements and foreign policy, fine. They will follow Chris Christie into the night.
In that case, all that’s left to do is to get those stubborn conservatives and Tea Party types to drop their #NeverTrump nonsense and fall in line.
Most Republicans Are Not Conservative
No doubt this explains the shift in tone over the weekend from writers like Peggy Noonan, who is usually thoughtful and fair but is now, it seems, sick and tired of conservatives complaining about Trump. She’s glad that Ryan “snapped out of his smug-seeming ‘I’m just not ready’ approach,” but thinks if he or anyone else in the GOP is going to resist Trump, “You have to explain at length and with moral and intellectual seriousness and depth in exactly what ways he’s not worthy of your support, and you have to do it in a way that summons a response that is equally thoughtful and temperate.”
With apologies to Noonan, smart conservatives in the media and within the GOP have been doing this for some time now. That their objections to Trump’s non-conservative views have failed to elicit an “equally thoughtful and temperate” response from Trump and his supporters is not their fault. After all these months, it’s odd that Noonan thinks it’s even possible to get a thoughtful and temperate response from Trump and his supporters.
But she goes further, demanding that those who oppose Trump make their case for why he’s not conservative and “explain what conservatism is”—as if this hasn’t been at the heart of the GOP’s civil war these past eight years. Noonan knows what conservatism is, and so does the GOP establishment.
But for the record, conservatism means limited government and free speech—not “opening up libel laws” to make it easier for people like Trump to sue journalists. It means free trade and free markets—not the trade wars and economic protectionism that Trump promises. It means reducing government spending and passing entitlement reform—not increasing taxes on the wealthy to pay for an endless welfare state. It means understanding that illegal immigration is driven mostly by demand for labor, and that Trump’s border wall won’t solve a problem created 60 years ago by labor unions and the Left. Conservatives, if they know what they’re about, are for federalism, against crony capitalism, oppose the New Deal, and wouldn’t generally describe the policies of the George W. Bush administration as “conservative” in any meaningful sense.
The Tea Party Was Right About the GOP Establishment
But that’s not a description of a majority of the GOP coalition. That most Republicans today are not conservatives should not surprise the Tea Partiers or the #NeverTrumpers. As Dennis Prager noted last week at NRO, there are plenty of reasons Trump beat his Republican rivals, but the biggest reason is that most Trump voters “don’t care whether he is a conservative.” They don’t care because they aren’t all that conservative, either.
New voters are coming into the GOP. Party leaders think this is a good thing, and perhaps it will be. But what good is it to bring in new voters and defeat the Democrats if in order to do it you have to utterly transform the party? For her part, Noonan can’t bring herself to turn away from the GOP even though its leaders are waving goodbye to her cherished Reagan-era conservative ideals.
Ross Douthat wrote last week that he was wrong to think the establishment and the base would come together to resist Trump, that he “overestimated the real commitment of both factions’ leaders to their stated principles and favored policies.” But it’s not quite fair to lump the base in with the politicians. Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter might have sung Trump’s praises early on, but in the early primaries about 65 percent of GOP primary voters cast a ballot for someone other than Trump.
Many of these voters are unsure what to do now. They are hoping a third-party candidate will arise to keep conservatism alive, or that Ryan will maintain the party’s integrity despite a Trump nomination, or that the delegates at the national convention will perform a miracle and nominate someone else.
Noonan and Hatch, however, are quite sure about what we should all do: surrender.