There is a perception among those who support Donald Trump that those conservatives who don’t revel in their own purity – that we feel good about sitting this one out, if we do indeed sit it out. That’s nonsense. It’s absolutely gut-churning to think about not voting against Hillary Clinton by voting for Trump. I’d love nothing better than to jump on the Trump Train.
But here’s the problem: the last stop on the Trump Train is the slaughterhouse for conservatism. And Trump’s most ardent supporters prove that every single day.
Those of us who have serious reservations about voting for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in November believe that Trump will take a hacksaw to conservatism itself. We fear that Trump as de facto leader of the conservative movement will gut the movement like a tauntaun, then wear around its skin as a prize.
We look at how Herbert Hoover’s brand of “conservatism” – really a mashup of big government interventionism and isolationism, very much like Trumpism – branded conservatism a disaster area for two generations. We look at how Richard Nixon’s brand of “conservatism” – economic interventionism combined with ad hoc foreign policy – destroyed conservatism until the black swan rise of Ronald Reagan, which resulted from the 1964 movement started by Barry Goldwater’s catastrophic loss. And we all know how George W. Bush poisoned the conservative brand, leading to the rise of Obamaism and Sandersism.
More importantly, we worry that Trump cares nothing for the constitution, that for Trump, conservatism is just a word to use casually as a pandering tactic. We fret that Trump’s disdain for free market economics on everything from trade to tax policy will destroy the only hope for a free market conservatism rising again. We are concerned that Trump’s ad hoc authoritarian streak will usher in an era of a new tyrannical consensus from both sides of the aisle.
We’re right to worry about that, because it’s already happening.
On Sunday, I spoke to a crowd in Los Angeles about the election. I expressed my view that Trump would likely be a better president than Hillary over the next four years, but that he would destroy the movement that actually holds hope for the future: conservatism.
One woman stood up and shouted, “We don’t care about conservatism! We need to win!”
This is the siren call of the Trump movement. As Patrick Maines, former assistant publisher of National Review, writes in today’s The Hill, “We have clearly not come, as the liberals of another era used to say, to the end of history, but we may have come, at least for the moment, to the end of ideology.” Or take Peggy Noonan at The Wall Street Journal: “The new Republican Party will not be rebuilt and re-formed in McLean, it will be rebuilt or re-formed in Massapequa.”
Ardent Trump supporters cheer this sentiment.
They ask, “What have conservatives ever done?” That’s the wrong question – conservatism, like any other philosophy, has had its due share of sell-out standardbearers. But conservatism as a philosophy has created the greatest country known to man; ended slavery in the United States; defended the country against the communist threat, and defeated the Soviet slave state; increased living standards faster and more broadly than any movement in human history.
They declare, “But we have to win now!” But Republicans have been winning – Congress in 2010 and 2014, the presidency in 2000 and 2004 – and we’re here nonetheless. Unless those who win represent conservatism, victory is insufficient. As a resident of California, I know this first-hand: I voted for Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 2003 recall election and rejected the far-more-conservative Tom McClintock on precisely this logic. The result: two Schwarzenegger terms, no real change, and the final gelding of the California Republican Party into a permanent minority, with the return of geriatric socialist Jerry Brown.
But all of this is cover for the real rationale for ardent Trump supporters: they want a “strong leader.” Over and over, this phrase appears in pro-Trump timelines. He’ll ignore the rules; he’ll bust up the shop. This is not conservative; it’s destructive of conservatism. And many Trump supporters cheer this openly. They want to replace conservatism with European populism – a borders-only version of conservatism that has no relationship with constitutional philosophy. That is why many of the same people arguing that conservatives have sold them out are solidifying behind a leftist from New York – they like that he’s a leftist. They want a big government Dear Leader to save them. They think he and he alone can Make America Great Again. This is why they cry when conservatives criticize Trump. If Trump’s most ardent supporters were actually conservative, they’d thank conservatives for pushing Trump to the right on issues like judicial nominees. But they don’t. They cry about criticism of Trump. All criticism of Trump. They’re not conservative. They just want someone Strong to Do Something.
For many conservatives, this is the movement we oppose when we oppose Trump. We despise Hillary Clinton as much – more! – than others, given her wild leftism. We agree that she will be a full-scale disaster for the country. But we despise leftism itself more than we despise Hillary Clinton, and that means we will fight the takeover of the only conservative party in America by ad hoc authoritarians to our last breath.