In fact, ideological magazines always do better when their party is out of power and readers are fired up with outrage. But even if it’s true that the Weekly Standard’s troubles reflect the way Trump has divided the movement, there’s a more appropriate reaction than solemn finger-wagging about the true nature of conservatism. Instead, spare a moment to admire how many of the movement’s leading intellectuals held their ground, even as a substantial portion of the conservative base moved away.
Those conservatives opposed Trump early and often — earlier, in fact, than many liberals. When the Republican nomination was still contested, plenty of left-leaning public intellectuals argued that he was preferable to supposedly more extreme candidates such as Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) or Ted Cruz (R-Tex.). In fairness, many of those people later admitted that they’d been wrong, although many also implausibly tried to suggest that they’d been unaware of Trump’s character flaws when they praised him.
Many conservatives, by contrast, were consistent throughout. They condemned Trump from the start, and continued to even when it would have been easier to do a sheepish volte-face. They could have offered ample tactical justifications for rallying behind the nominee: Refusing to support Trump meant conceding control of the Supreme Court and the regulatory agencies to left-wing blocs cemented by Hillary Clinton’s nominees. On a more personal level, with Trump at the head of the party, denouncing him meant jeopardizing decades of investment in a career as a conservative pundit, politician or policy wonk.