Iconic columnist George Will has now sounded the latest admonition of DOOM! for conservatism if Donald Trump wins the Republican nomination. “If Trump wins the nomination, prepare for the end of the conservative party,” reads the headline. And the piece is no less ominous. After ticking off Trump’s myriad personal and political flaws, Will comes to his true point: better for the Republicans to lose the presidency than win with Trump. He writes:
Certainly conservatives consider it crucial to deny the Democratic Party a third consecutive term controlling the executive branch. Extending from eight to 12 years its use of unbridled executive power would further emancipate the administrative state from control by either a withering legislative branch or a supine judiciary. But first things first. Conservatives’ highest priority now must be to prevent Trump from winning the Republican nomination in this, the GOP’s third epochal intraparty struggle in 104 years.
How odd. Just days ago, Bret Stephens of The Wall Street Journal was busy writing that clearly the only thing that mattered to backers of Donald Trump and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) was losing to Hillary Clinton. Now, Will openly says he’d prefer to lose if it means stopping Trump. The panic is palpable amongst the establishment pundits.
Will rightly points out that Trump represents a strain of thinking foreign to conservatism. He’s more along the lines of Teddy Roosevelt’s progressivism or the supposed “pragmatism” of Rockefeller Republicans than Ronald Reagan. All that is true. But then Will concludes:
[T]his avatar of unfettered government and executive authoritarianism has mesmerized a large portion of Republicans for six months. The larger portion should understand this: One hundred and four years of history is in the balance. If Trump is the Republican nominee in 2016, there might not be a conservative party in 2020 either.
This is wildly overstated. The fact is that the Republican Party has shifted the definition of conservatism to meet non-conservative presidential candidates over and over again. As I wrote about Mitt Romney in early 2012:
Yes, defeating horrible politicians like Barack Obama is the top goal — but that doesn’t justify redefining conservatism entirely…. When we deliberately broaden conservatism to encompass government-forced purchase of health insurance or raising taxes or appointing liberal judges or enforcing same-sex marriage or using taxpayer money to bail out business or pushing trade barriers, we destroy conservatism from within. If we do that, why would our politicians even bother to pay lip service to the standard?
I have great sympathy for the argument that Trumpism harms conservatism. But so did McCainism and Romneyism and Bushism and Doleism. None of the current Trump critics seemed to have a problem with any of that. The Republican Party stumbles ever forward, pushing such candidates. Why would Trump be any different -- except that the base likes Trump, where many in the base disliked the others?