Via the Blaze, consider this an open thread for when Hannity interviews Beck about Trump later tonight at 10 p.m. on his Fox show. There are a million fascinating subplots to Trumpmania and one of them is the sometimes friendly, sometimes not so friendly rifts it’s opening up between big-name conservatives in the media. The Beck/Hannity rift is friendly: Here’s Beck’s respectful open letter to Rush, Sean, et al. last week about why they’re excited about a candidate who’s obviously not a conservative and here’s Hannity’s respectful reply. Read them now as background if you’re planning to watch their tete-a-tete later. (For a less friendly example of a disagreement over Trump, see Mark Levin’s justifiably disgusted reaction to Ann Coulter calling Trump’s immigration plan so great that she wouldn’t mind if he performed abortions in the White House himself.) Beck asks a good question here and then offers a good answer to it. Why, he says, do conservative opinion-makers like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity give Trump a pass on his many, many ideological heresies when normally they’re bulldogs in calling out centrists like Romney for lesser offenses? Beck’s answer: Trump has a swagger that Romney doesn’t. When Trump tells you he’s going to seal the border and destroy the Beltway establishment, you believe him because he doesn’t care who disapproves of him or his objectives. He’s going to do what he sets out to do. After trying for decades and failing to make American government incrementally more conservative, some righties are ready to gamble on a guy who, if, if, if he’s true to his word, will achieve more in that vein than any president since Reagan. Essentially, after six election cycles of making low-risk bets on business-as-usual Republicans, conservatives are willing to make a high-stakes gamble on a guy who won’t be business as usual but, er, might not govern as a Republican either.
Let me give you two other takes on Trumpmania, though, to help explain the divide between Trump-lovers and Trump-haters. I think there’s some truth to what Josh Barro says about Trump appealing to a less libertarian cohort of conservatives, which may explain why Beck in particular is having such trouble grasping his appeal.
Mr. Trump’s critique of government differs greatly from that of most conservatives. The conservative argument for small government ordinarily rests on the idea that citizens necessarily know better what to do with their money and their lives than the government does, because the government lacks the local knowledge that individuals have. Under this theory, even a government run by smart people will do lots of stupid, costly things.
Mr. Trump is positing not a general, inherent failure of government but a very specific one. He nearly shouted it at last week’s debate: “Our leaders are stupid, our politicians are stupid.” This is the core idea of the Trump campaign, and it does not necessarily imply that government should be smaller. It implies that somebody smart, ideally Mr. Trump, should run the government.
If Republican voters share Mr. Trump’s diagnosis that the main problem with our government is stupid leaders, and if they believe that Mr. Trump is much smarter and wiser than the politicians who have come before him, they may be fully prepared to forgive his apostasies on Medicaid, taxes and everything else. If their real beef is not with our leaders but with big government itself, his support should fade as his policy moderation becomes clear.
Beck thinks government gallups along inexorably towards failure because that’s what collectivist institutions inevitably do. The best thing you can do with government is shrink it so that it does as little damage as possible. Some Trump fans — maybe not the sort of grassroots conservatives who read blogs like this one but surely some of his moderate supporters — think the problem with government isn’t necessarily that it’s too big but that it’s been badly run and/or run for the primary benefit of the wrong people and that a better steward could straighten things out. Again, the high-stakes bet on Trump is that he’s a guy uniquely capable, through the force of his personality and his ability to build silent-majority mandates, to do the straightening. Assuming, that is, he behaves like a Republican once in office. Beck, wisely, isn’t willing to make that bet. Hannity seems to be.
The other take on Trump’s appeal is my own, something I’ve been thinking about since he announced his immigration plan this weekend. Trump and Ted Cruz are frequently lumped in together (including by me) because they’re both overt populists and both seen as essentially right-wing phenomena even though Cruz’s base is more uniformly conservative than Trump’s is. In an important way, though, Cruz and Trump are opposites. The point of Cruz’s trademark rhetoric about “bold colors, not pale pastels” is that he’s a true believer in conservatism’s power to win over the masses if it’s presented unapologetically, in its strong form, by an able messenger like Ronald Reagan (or, of course, Ted Cruz). Give the voters real conservatism and they’ll flock to you, whatever the pollsters or the demographics say. It’s an essentially religious belief in the power of the creed to convert infidels so long as it’s given a fair hearing. Trump fans, on some level, have given up that belief assuming they ever had it to begin with, I think. They wish Cruz was right but they just don’t think conservatism is an electoral winner anymore, either because the character of the country has changed or because changing demographics have made it impossible. At this point, the best deal you’re going to get is a guy like Trump who’s compromised ideologically but seems to have some conservative instincts, most notably on immigration, and who seems like he really might be willing to push the country in that direction (on certain issues) if he’s given power. In particular, by calling for all illegals to be deported and immigration to be reduced, Trump would drastically reduce the number of future voters from Mexico and the third world, most of whom would end up voting Democratic given past trends. (Coulter makes this point pretty explicitly in praising Trump’s plan.) If you’ve given up on conservatism’s power to persuade and have come to see national politics chiefly as a power struggle among different demographic groups, Trump arguably makes the most sense. He may not be a conservative but he’ll protect what’s left of the country and the people who still care about it from being preyed upon domestically and abroad, which, at this stage of American decadence, is the best you can hope for. Essentially, and very ironically, he’s the guy standing athwart history yelling “stop!” Not my candidate, but I think what I’ve described is a core part of his appeal.