On Thursday, George Will wrote a piece excoriating the GOP over its newfound worship for Donald Trump. “The ease with which Trump has erased Republican conservatism matches the speed with which Republican leaders have normalized him,” Will stated. “If Trump wins, the GOP ends as a vehicle for conservatism. And a political idea without a political party is an orphan in an indifferent world.”
This expresses well my own reservations about Trump. He’s not conservative; in fact, he’s anti-conservative on central questions including the role of government and the value of the Constitution. But more importantly, he’s ripping the beating heart out of the conservative movement by co-opting conservative thoughtleaders and conservative constituents into his following. There are many Trump supporters who are fully aware he isn’t conservative, and hold their noses to support him; that’s morally palatable and logically sustainable. But overall, the GOP infrastructure is turning into a Trump fringe troll army rather than standing for principle. Basic conservative principles are being bowled over in favor of Trumpism.
Here are four conservative principles threatened by Trump’s ardent following:
1. Facts Matter More Than Feelings. This principle is particularly close to my heart, for obvious reasons. I believe that facts matter. But for the last several months, with Trump fading in the polls, many Trump supporters have begun pretending that scientific polls are worthless, and unscientific polls are reliable indicators of support levels. In 2012, I took part in the “unskewing” of polls – I looked at the D+ breakdowns in polls, and then tried to rejigger the numbers based on a more even reflection of the electorate. That was an exercise in foolishness; the polls were right, and I was wrong. But now, there’s a whole new cottage industry of poll trutherism, far beyond unskewing: now we’re pretending that opt-in online polls are the equivalent of scientific polls. Why? Because we don’t like the scientific polls. Perhaps the avatar of this movement is the hilariously self-important Bill Mitchell, who has tweeted thusly:
There is no bias in Internet polling. Voters self-select. And with millions of votes, the MOE is non-existent.
— Bill Mitchell (@mitchellvii) September 28, 2016
But it’s not just Mitchell, who has become the Pauline Kael of the Trump movement (“I only know one person who voted for Nixon”). It’s Trump himself. It’s Fox News hosts, who were warned not to cite such opt-in online polls, but did so anyway. It’s talk radio hosts who did the same. Here’s Jason Miller, a Trump surrogate, doing this crap on national television:
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) September 29, 2016
Then there are the Trumpian conspiracy theories. Since the debate, we’ve heard that Hillary Clinton used hand signals to cue Lester Holt; the Florida GOP tweeted out an Infowars story about Hillary being wired for sound. Every Trump failure has a conspiracy theory to support it, and those conspiracy stories are now being taken mainstream by some Republicans.
Truth doesn’t stop being true just because the truth is that your favored candidate is doing poorly.
2. Conservatism Matters. It’s one thing to vote for Donald Trump while decrying his lack of conservatism, as Mark Levin does every day — that’s honest and praiseworthy. It’s another to pretend that his non-conservative agenda is conservative. Some high-profile conservatives have flipped on government paid maternity leave; a huge number of high-profile conservatives have flipped on free trade (leading to a massive drop in popularity among Republicans for free trade); an enormous number of high-profile conservatives have been warmed up to Vladimir Putin; virtually all major Republican voices have glossed over Trump’s ugly and nasty lie that Bush lied and people died in Iraq. Some heretofore conservatives have simply suggested that conservatism has failed, and we need Trumpian nationalist populism to replace it. Others have sighed and said that maybe the country has moved beyond conservatism altogether, so he’s the best we can do. So much for principle. Victory for a statist blowhard is more important, and if that requires sacrificing the notion of a conservative revival anytime in the near future, so be it.
3. Politicians Shouldn’t Be Worshipped. Remember that time conservatives mocked Democrats for their messianic hero-worship of Godking Obama? When we all scoffed as he pronounced that he would lower the sea levels? When we freaked out because small children sang worship hymns about Obama? Now Donald Trump says things like “we are going to fulfill every single wish and every single promise.” He says “you have 40 days to make every dream you ever dreamed for your country come true.” He said both on Thursday. The “I alone can fix” routine should be anathema to conservatives looking to elect a head of state, but apparently we can embrace such tyrannical nonsense so long as the tyrant only reflects half of Hillary Clinton’s policy priorities and has a different name.
4. Character Matters. Remember when Republicans believed in personal responsibility and decency toward women? When Republicans decried mistreatment of women by candidates like Bill Clinton? Those days are long past. Now, Republicans can’t merely point out the hypocrisy of Clinton in targeting Donald Trump’s personal foibles – they must embrace the foibles themselves. We have to pretend that Trump is grand to women – he hires his daughter! – despite a lifelong track record of treating women with disdain and cruelty. Or we have to pretend that his foibles aren’t that bad. Because Trump is a thin-skinned narcissist with a pathological inability to disown his prior mistakes, all Republicans must join in his stupidities. Newt Gingrich has to babble about why it’s bad for Miss Universe 1997 to gain 60 pounds. If Trump mocks a disabled reporter, Ann Coulter has to come up with the plausible excuse that Trump “was doing a standard retard.” Don’t worry — Trump is a good guy. After all, do you want Hillary to win or something?
Trumpism corrupts, and absolute Trumpism corrupts absolutely. If Trump has done such heavy groundwork in tearing apart the conservative movement and exposing its principles for a hollow shell in just a year, imagine what President Trump will do.