Donald Trump’s brazen violation of principles American conservatives were once thought to cherish—from free trade to family values to a hard line against America’s foes—has split right-leaning pundits into three camps. At one extreme are the pure sycophants. For them, conservatism is whatever Trump says it is. Many, like Sebastian Gorka, were unknown until Trump’s presidency, which means they can applaud whatever he does without worrying that people will notice they’ve abandoned principles they formerly held. At the other extreme are anti-Trump conservatives like George Will, Bret Stephens, and David Frum, who frankly acknowledge that Trump has desecrated conservative principles—along with liberal democratic ones—and as a result denounce him in the harshest of terms.
Then there’s the middle group: The “to be sure” conservatives. They want to remain faithful to principles they once championed. But they also want to be as faithful as possible to a president who enjoys near 90 percent approval among Republican voters. Thus, their writing includes “to be sure” paragraphs that breeze by Trump’s blatant assaults on long-held conservative values in their rush to find something, anything, to congratulate him for.