How much do you hate the establishment?
That’s the question Donald Trump’s campaign is asking today as they trot out disestablishment figure Sarah Palin. Since 2008, when the John McCain campaign selected Palin from relative obscurity, only to throw her under the bus as a radical liability, Palin has built a grassroots movement shredding the Republican political establishment. Those who hate the establishment – those who believe that Republican establishment types would rather go along with the left than fight them – became fond of Palin as she used her support to push conservatives to primary victory, including one Ted Cruz of Texas. We disliked her enemies, because they were smug elitists; we disliked them because their elitism wasn’t restricted to Palin’s Alaskan accent or her Melvilleian sentence structure – it extended to Palin’s conservative politics. We thought the media’s attacks on Palin were for the most part unjust, because they were. We liked Palin because support for Palin meant a backlash against those who deserved to be smacked politically.
As Donald Trump rose to the forefront of the 2016 race, many of those same backlash dynamics came into play. Trump’s defenders felt the same way about Trump that Palin supporters felt about Palin. They felt, rightly, that many of those who attacked Trump didn’t do so on the basis of his insufficient conservatism, but on the basis of his polarizing language, on the basis of his blue collar appeal and his accent. They felt that the establishment GOP wanted to stop Trump because they couldn’t control him.
The Trump/Palin backlash was disestablishmentarian in nature. It remains so now.
But there is one problem.
There is one crucial difference between Trump and Palin: Palin was actually far more conservative politically than Trump. She didn’t shilly-shally on abortion. She didn’t waver on same-sex marriage. She didn’t believe in bailouts; she railed against crony capitalism; she hasn’t spoken about the need to maintain entitlement programs; she hasn’t endorsed campaign finance reform; she never spoke about the glories of single-payer healthcare. It was easier to get behind Palin’s movement than Trump’s without compromising principle.
Palin’s endorsement of Trump now puts Republican voters to the test: are they disestablishmentarians, or are they conservatives? Will they side with Trump and Palin just to slap at the establishment? Or will they side with conservatism, even if it means breaking support for some of those who fight establishment elitists?
Count me with the conservatives. I hate the establishment Republican Party, but not merely because they are elitists – I despise them because they join with the left in compromise rather than standing on principle, and attempt to destroy anyone who won’t back their play.
But that doesn’t mean I’ll sacrifice my own principle to destroy them. I’m a conservative before a disestablishmentarian. So call me a devotee of antidisestablishmentarianism – I’m not for dumping the establishment over just for its own sake. It’s only worthwhile replacing our dictators if we can replace them with something better. And, thankfully, we do have that choice, with Cruz – or even with Marco Rubio, to an extent (remember, the establishment supported Crist over Rubio in his Senate Race).
I’m not convinced that Donald Trump is an upgrade from Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, John McCain, or Mitt Romney. And Sarah Palin’s endorsement doesn’t change that for me. Conservatism isn’t just about the backlash. It’s about the principle.