Oh really? Let’s game it out and see.
Of all the arguments offered by the #NeverTrumpers, the one most often put forward and least explained is this one: Even if Trump would be a marginally better president than Hillary, it will wouldn’t be worth electing him because a Trump presidency would be the death of the conservative movement.
The increasingly hysterical Ben Shapiro explains it thusly:
But there is a second assumption that must be made in order to back Trump to stop Hillary: that Trump will not pervert conservatism itself.
That assumption is blatantly incorrect.
It’s not merely that Trump is a leftist. He is, but conservatives could simply point that out and then hold their noses. It’s that a solid contingent of conservatives, desperately in search of a leader, are willing to follow Trump in hollowing out conservatism. So, for example, we’ve seen heretofore conservative Trump supporters championing mass-murdering abortion ring Planned Parenthood because Trump did it. We’ve seen heretofore conservative Trump supporters embrace Trump’s economic protectionism because Trump did it. Now we will see the establishment massage itself into quasi-support for men peeing next to little girls.
So I guess Shapiro believes that President Trump means the death of conservatism because so many apparent conservatives are willing to embrace him even though he is nothing of the sort. I hate to tell him this, but if that’s the case, then the problems of the conservative movement are not because caused by Donald Trump.
We start with Shapiro’s observation that conservatives are “desperate for a leader.” That may well be true, but if it is then you can’t blame Donald Trump for coming along and being willing to lead. The better question is why there was no recognized, effective leader before him. Is it because every potential leader who came along was inadequate? Or is it because very good but not perfect people came along who could have been effective, but the rank-and-file spit them out like lukewarm coffee because they were not perfect, and today conservatism demands ideological purity above all else?
We’ve noted around here with bewilderment the type of rage that rises up from commenters every time we mention Paul Ryan – and this was before the maybe-I’ll-endorse-Trump-maybe-I-won’t business. From the moment Ryan became Mitt Romney’s running mate, but even more so after he became Speaker of the House, the activist types have thrown him over completely, and now spew angry invective every time his name is mention.
Paul Ryan. The Pathway to Prosperity? Remember this guy? The one who had the plan about balancing the budget, reducing the size of government and cutting taxes? That Paul Ryan? The one who was the darling of conservative journals less than a decade ago with his detailed policy ideas and his frank talk about the fiscal peril in which we find ourselves? He’s now your enemy for some reason. The same thing happened with Marco Rubio, once the rising conservative star who ended the political career of the execrable Charlie Crist. One apostasy on immigration and Rubio became yesterday’s garbage – his 94 rating from American Conservative Union notwithstanding.
I can’t help but notice that the conservative grassroots tends to turn on their heroes right about the time they get elected to something, and it’s discovered that you can’t govern in as pure a fashion as you can campaign – because that same Constitution you revere for the limits on government also limit any one officeholder’s ability to do only what he wants to do. As soon as a guy makes a deal to get half a loaf (and everyone will make a deal to get half a loaf at some point), he’s a liberal RINO establishment cocktail party apostate squish. He’s done. Mark Levin is denouncing his betrayal and the troops are now marching in lockstep behind the latest guy who has never governed anything but claims he would do so as a “true conservative” if he ever got the chance.
Ronald Reagan, who these people claim to revere, said that someone who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is not your 20 percent enemy. They’ve gone way past that. They think someone who agrees with them 94 percent of the time is their 100 percent enemy. That’s what happens to leaders of the conservative movement. You can’t blame Donald Trump for that.
But let’s game out exactly what would happen if Trump became president and, as the #NeverTrumpers expect, governed as something less than a committed constitutionalist conservative. Presumably this would result in conflicts with Congress and considerable hyperventilation from the news media. Trump would likely sign certain bills of a more conservative nature, assuming Republicans keep Congress, and we could certainly hope that includes a repeal of ObamaCare.
But let’s say he’s all over the place. He’s erratic on spending. He’s soft on taxes. He’s permissive on abortion. He’s just like Obama on social issues. He observes no limits to executive power. He’s a shameless crony capitalist. He’s everything the #NeverTrumper’s warn through tears and loathing that he will be.
What does the “conservative movement” do? To listen to the likes of Ben Shapiro, it withers and dies as the one-time followers of Buckley, Hayek and Kirk now cheer for principle-free populism of Trump – and there’s no one left to tout the ideas that drove Goldwater and ruled the day under Reagan. Is that what would really happen?
Of course not. If Trump were to govern in this way, serious conservatives would lead the principled opposition to his policies. Of course the news media and the Democrats would try to put Trump and movement conservatives in the same bag, and tar them all with the same failures, but what’s new about that? They’ve always used dishonest arguments against conservative ideas. If you don’t have the wherewithal to counter them, then what do you think you’re doing leading any sort of ideological movement? Go apply at Taco Bell.
Or are movement conservatives worried that their followers peel off so easily because they were never really that bought in to begin with? Because if that’s the case, then it’s a weakness of the movement, not an act of destruction by the man they now think will take them down. For all the huffing and puffing about their principles, how much success have “true conservatives” achieved with their decades of moral and ideological vanity? Rob and I were talking the other day about conservative policy successes since Reagan left office – actual policies implemented and undertaken successfully between 1989 and today.
I came up with five, two of which – the 1997 capital gains tax cut and the now-decimated Defense of Marriage Act – happened with a Democrat in the White House. The others were the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, and the ban on partial birth abortion. Rob added a variety of Second Amendment victories courtesy of the Supreme Court.
That’s it. Maybe we forgot something obscure and esoteric, but the conservative movement hasn’t exactly been on a winning streak for the better part of three decades. You can blame that on all the RINO squishes that you think keep selling you out, but dude, when you’re the movement you’re judged by your ability to achieve your goals. If you can’t elect the guys who get it done, or you can’t understand what it takes to get it done, or you don’t have the patience to play a long game like the left does, or you can’t persuade enough of the public to back your ideas so they become more politically viable for elected officials to support, then you ultimately own the failures.
That being the recent legacy of the conservative movement, it’s hard to take seriously the argument that we can’t elect Trump because it would so mortally damage such an essential movement. Maybe a movement more focused on policy successes than organizing cruises and coronating its own media celebrities could be put forward as that essential. The one we have? I do not think so. If Trump could burn it down that easily, then it’s not that strong and certainly not that vital to begin with.
A truly effective conservative movement would seek to help President Trump govern better, recognizing that it would also risk association with some of his failure, but nonetheless valuing the best interests of the nation above its own short-term positioning. The one we have (some of it, anyway), is content to let Hillary take power so it can yelp from the sidelines.
Maybe that’s the really telling thing. Maybe the conservative movement believes yelping from the sidelines is really all it’s good at, which is why it would rather have an easy foil like Hillary as the target for its complaints. If that’s the case, then it’s not so vital a movement after all. At some point, if you’re to be taken seriously, you have to take the opportunity to govern and do the best you can. And you don’t get to wait until the opportunity is easy or perfect. At least people with real courage don’t demand such conditions. Only movements driven by their own moral and ideological vanity.
And movements like that are nowhere near as essential as they would like you to think.