After the voters elect the 45th president of the United States next week, a portentous question will remain: Why did the Republican nominee’s larger-than-life defects trigger a civil war among conservatives, while progressives—especially elite progressives—fell into line and rallied around a Democratic nominee whose policy blunders, hypocrisy, and proclivity to lie to the American people to cover up cronyism and lawlessness have been amply documented?
One answer, common among Democrats and recently advanced by New York Times columnist David Brooks, is that it’s conservatives’ own fault. According to Brooks, conservative demagogues on talk radio, cable TV, and the Internet induced hysteria and exploited social resentments. Social conservatives put advancement of the Republican Party ahead of their religious obligations. And conservatives have been slow to recognize — and craft policies to deal with — economic hardship and the breakdown of civil society.
This answer is unsatisfactory because it overlooks the conservative movement’s persistent turbulence, even in the heyday of William F. Buckley, who made great strides in bringing together the American right’s disputatious factions. It also fails to acknowledge Democrats’ puzzling ability to set aside apparent differences and unite, even if reluctantly, in support of their deeply flawed candidate.