But we should understand that Bauerlein’s approach is not a strategy for victory. It’s a counsel of defeatism. He is not merely claiming that the contest of ideas has been lost, but that it cannot be won.

This would mean that the only way forward is to never lose another election.

This may not be a remotely realistic goal, but it does explain why support for Trump is so strident and inflexible, and why recalcitrant NeverTrumpers occupy so much space in the heads of Trump’s supporters. Back in the old days—and by the “old days,” I mean five years ago—it was commonly accepted that if a foolish or unworthy politician lost an election, it was probably his own fault, for not making a good enough case to the public. But all hope was not lost because the contest of ideas would go on.

But what happens when you give up on the contest of ideas? Then the political leader on your side at any given moment has to win, whoever he is and whatever his flaws. He has to remain in office and win re-election, because you have given up on winning converts and adding to your coalition. In this view, the crudest kind of partisanship remains as the only means conservative intellectuals have for achieving their ends.