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Beltway Conservatives Need To Get Out Of Their Bubble On Trump


There’s a scene in “Moonstruck” where Cher’s Loretta Castorini is frustrated at Nicolas Cage’s Ronny Cammareri. The two have fallen for each other, and that’s not a good thing since Loretta is engaged to Ronny’s brother. He tells her he’s in love with her, and she responds thusly:

Peggy Noonan’s latest Wall Street Journal column against the approaches taken by inside-the-Beltway Republicans who oppose Trump reminded me a bit of that slap. A few sample paragraphs:

What is needed among Republicans in Washington now is patience, soberness of thought, and a kind of heroic fairness. Reflection and humility wouldn’t hurt either.

In an act of determined denial, Washington Republicans and conservatives continue to see and describe Mr. Trump’s nomination as the triumph of a celebrity in a culture that worships celebrity, the victory of a vulgarian in a vulgar age, the living excrescence of our shallow values and lowered standards. Also, he’s tapped into the public’s rage.

He is all of those things. But he is more, and Washington is determined to ignore the more. He understood, either intuitively or after study, that the Republican base was changing or open to change, and would expand if the party changed some policies. He declared those policies changed. And he won.

“Noonan all but endorses Trump,” some responded. Which misses the point entirely. Her last three columns are worthwhile reads. Not because they endorse Trump (they don’t), but because they explain Trump supporters to a group of people determined not to understand. “Trump Was a Spark, Not the Fire” is her May 5 attempt to force the NeverTrump movement to understand the seriousness of the changes to the party. That came on the heels of “That Moment When 2016 Hits You,” a beautiful lament over how the 2016 campaign has changed us for the worse.

Noonan’s last three columns explain Trump supporters to a group of people determined not to understand.

There’s plenty to quibble over in “Mr. Trump Goes to Washington,” this latest column. For example, Noonan complains about Paul Ryan putting Trump on ice unless he articulates a conservative message behind which Republicans can rally. She says, “When a sitting Republican speaker of the House is cool on or considering rejecting that party’s presumptive presidential nominee, more is needed than ‘I’m not there yet.'” She adds, “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.”

Except, as silly of a bar as is demanded here, that’s what he did and has been doing for months. There’s plenty to quibble about with Ryan, too, of course, but he has been thoughtful and temperate in his posture toward Trump, and he’s explained conservative policies with moral and intellectual seriousness and depth for months. He’s one of the few people in the Republican Party who has neither cravenly surrendered to Trumpism nor histrionically opposed the man.

Sure, Trump’s first response was to send out Sarah Palin to threaten Ryan — and Trump has long threatened Ryan that there will be hell to pay if he doesn’t cower — but Ryan’s move did summon, in short order, a response that was thoughtful and temperate from Trump. It was a baller move in part because Ryan got what he wanted and allowed Trump to save face. While Ryan is happy to offer his assistance to Trump should they iron out their drastic differences, Trump can’t go too far afield without risking losing that support. This is even more important when it comes to the possibility that both men will be top dogs in Washington come January.

But let’s set all that and a few other things aside. Here’s a representative response from a prominent someone in the NeverTrump movement:

Noonan’s reply, again, is “Snap out of it!”

She’s written the book on the unfitness of the current candidates, in one case quite literally. But here we are. We’re in a country with two dominant parties that have all but nominated “Crazy Man versus Criminal,” as she put it. Now what do we do? The question of which candidate to vote for is easier than the question of what the paths forward are for the Republican Party and the conservative movement it houses.

She argues for patience, soberness of thought, reflection, and humility.

We can certainly overanalyze the Trump phenomenon. While he has his supporters, it’s also true that most Republicans opposed him. But he won. What does that mean? And if, when blaming people, you don’t look inward even a little bit, you’re almost certainly part of the problem.

When blaming people, if you don’t look inward even a little bit, you’re almost certainly part of the problem.

One of the columns linked above discusses “that moment when 2016 hits you.” For me it was the night of the South Carolina primary, February 20. I had written about the Trump phenomenon — moderately, particularly compared to most political journalists — and am quite proud of what I wrote about what his support signified (see, among others, “When It Comes To Donald Trump, I Hate Everyone,” “The GOP’s Loyalty Pledge Targeting Trump Is Ridiculous. Here’s A Better Idea,” and “If Donald Trump Is Awful, The GOP Is Worse.” When Trump won winner-take-all South Carolina, I knew it was over.

Because of my opposition to his candidacy, it threw me into a week’s long funk. My opposition, by the way, is based on his policy positions more than anything. I don’t like his narcissism or deception, but the same could be said of many other politicians, so he’s not tremendously special in that regard. I don’t like the way he treats other humans, but the same could be said of most other politicians. I’m a constitutionalist who cares about virtue. Trump is simply not my guy.

A friend I encountered the next night started talking about who was to blame for Trumpism. What impressed me was her willingness to talk about how her work at conservative institutions may have been to blame. Did they set expectations too high about what was possible? Did they get people so interested in legislative minutiae that it made it difficult to pass legislation?

For my part, I wondered if my hatred of the Republican Party’s impotence and incompetence and stated desire to see it destroyed may have been a tad overwrought. (It was completely overwrought.)

Noonan wants Republican elites and those who enabled them to take their hefty share of the blame.

Noonan wants Republican elites and those who enabled them to take their hefty share of the blame. They haven’t even begun to do so. Never mind that the vast majority of those elites have signed on with Trump, leaving only principled conservatives in their not-on-the-bus wake. But even conservatives need to explain — calmly, repeatedly, and with some effort at actually communicating with average Americans — why Trump is outside the bounds in ways that George W. Bush wasn’t. This is easily understood by media elites, of course, but they’re not the audience. She writes:

Those who oppose Mr. Trump should do it seriously and with respect for his supporters. If he is not conservative, make your case and explain what conservatism is. No one at this point needs your snotty potshots or your supposedly withering one-liners. I confess I have lost patience with many of those declaring they cannot in good conscience support him, not because reasons of conscience are not crucial—they are, and if they apply they should be declared. But some making these declarations managed in good conscience, indeed with the highest degree of self-regard, to back the immigration proposals of George W. Bush that contributed so much to the crisis that produced Mr. Trump. They invented Sarah Palin. They managed to support the global attitudes and structures that left the working class jobless. They dreamed up the Iraq war.

Noonan’s column shouldn’t be read as an embrace of Trump but as a rejection of current Republican opposition to the frustration his supporters carry. It’s not that Trump can’t or shouldn’t be opposed. But if it’s done, how it’s done matters a great deal.

In “Moonstruck,” by the way, Ronny doesn’t snap out of it. Not even close. But he does realize the difficulty of pursuing Loretta, and sets out to prove his love for her, pursuing her with opera and other lovemaking. That’s the wisest course for those concerned about Trump. Come to terms with the seriousness of the problem first, then commit to showing your fellow Americans the beauty of what you believe in.