For almost my entire adult life, I have been both conservative and a registered Republican. There was a very brief moment in the summer of 1992 when, out of disgust at the tone of the George H.W. Bush campaign, I registered Libertarian while living in Arizona. After attending a meeting and listening to some of their positions, I quickly registered back as a Republican, and voted for Bush. Lesson learned, even if in the end my candidate didn’t win the election.
Since reading George Will’s cri de coeur last week about his disgust with the GOP, I’ve thought about that weeks-long episode almost a quarter-century ago. Will is one of my favorite conservative writers and a man I respect, but his declaration of independent status reminds me of my own fit of pique — and shortsightedness. I respond today in The Week:
I’ve long admired Will as both a writer and a conservative, and he owes his allegiance to no organization or candidate that hasn’t earned it. Still, this sounds more like pique than principle. Presumably, the reason Will chose to join the GOP was to give his conservatism an opportunity to succeed in governing. What possible purpose would a pullout of movement conservatives from the GOP serve at this point? This cycle shows that conservatism has been marginalized within the Republican tent, which means it has no chance as a standalone movement to move the needle of governance. Such a schism would disconnect conservatism from one of only two large bases of aggregated electoral power that offer any chance of implementing policy at any level but local. It’s the equivalent of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face.
Furthermore, the Republican and Democratic parties consist of more than just presidential nominees. If anything, conservatives worried about losing the argument in the presidential primaries should redouble their efforts to influence Senate, House, and gubernatorial elections. The GOP has a good chance of holding onto their majorities in both; the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows an even split in the congressional ballot test at 46/46. Two years ago at this time, the same test favored Democrats 45/43 — in an election in which they lost 13 House seats and nine Senate seats. A schism puts Republican majorities at risk, and with it any opportunity for conservatives to influence the path of governance for at least the next two years.
Staying within the Republican coalition and fighting for conservative principles and policy does not require one to endorse the nominee. It doesn’t even require one to vote for the nominee. It does, however, require conservatives to recognize that their presumption of preeminence has blinded them to the currents within the Republican electorate, and to energize themselves as evangelists for conservatism where the movement has its first and best opportunities to succeed. Abandoning the GOP will only marginalize the conservative movement and concede the mechanisms of governance to those that conservatives oppose — in either the GOP or the Democratic Party.
I’m not #NeverTrump, but I’m still skeptical of Trump, both for my vote and for his chances of success. Regardless of how I feel about Trump, though, I do not begrudge GOP officials for accepting him as the nominee. The Republican Party set the rules for the primaries, and GOP voters chose Trump, which makes whether Paul Ryan or anyone else treats him as the nominee a moot point, and not indicative of their own views of the Republican Party.
In the end, this election will come down to the practical choice between Trump and Hillary Clinton, no matter how we all parse it between now and November. Retired financial adviser Jim Ruth offers perhaps the most cynical — but also perhaps the most compelling — reason to vote for Trump with that binary choice in mind, in a remarkable column for the Washington Post:
No Trump campaign buttons or bumper stickers for me. I’m part of the new silent majority: those who don’t like Donald Trump but might vote for him anyway. For many of us, Trump has only one redeeming quality: He isn’t Hillary Clinton. He doesn’t want to turn the United States into a politically correct, free-milk-and-cookies, European-style social democracy where every kid (and adult, too) gets a trophy just for showing up. …
We are under no illusions about Trump. We know that this Man Who Would Be King is a classic bully and a world-class demagogue in his personal, professional and political lives. He will continue to demonize his perceived enemies and take the low road at every opportunity.
And we know that if Trump makes it all the way to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., the view after that is murky at best. We’re confident that he will surround himself with smart and capable people from the business world, as well as some Capitol Hill veterans. But here’s the rub: Past business associates describe him as a micromanager who likes yes men at his side. How long this new Washington brain trust will last in a Trump administration is anybody’s guess. …
So why then would rational, affluent, informed citizens consider voting for The Donald? Short of not voting at all — still an option some of us are considering — he’s the only one who appears to want to preserve the American way of life as we know it. For the new silent majority, the alternative to Trump is bleak: a wealthy, entitled progressive with a national security scandal in her hip pocket. In our view, the thought of four to eight more years of a progressive agenda polluting the American Dream is even more dangerous to the survival of this country than Trump is.
Regardless of whether this vote convinces movement conservatives to hold their noses and vote for Trump, their place still remains in the Republican Party. We have many more fights to win than just the presidency in this one election, and a new need to make conservatism more relevant rather than withdraw into isolation. For a half-century, George Will has helped lead that engagement — and I sincerely hope he reconsiders and returns to revitalize the conservative wing of the GOP.