Ever since Marco Rubio and John Kasich dropped out of the GOP primary race I’ve been increasingly inclined to back out of the social media debate with my friends who remain in the #NeverTrump movement. It’s an argument which will sway the opinions of few, if any people at this point and investing time and energy in such a food fight seems completely counterproductive. When conservatives fight among themselves, nobody benefits except liberals and the media that loves them. It also invariably rubs more salt in the wounds between people who should be friends and fellow warriors in a larger, more important cause.
But that doesn’t mean that I don’t see the repeated calls from those on the conservative side of society who are still hoping to either “stop Trump” or elect Hillary Clinton, depending who you ask. Policy differences with Trump – as far as they can be defined – are understandable and there’s still nothing wrong with a healthy debate on the issues. But the most dire warnings I continue to see from the #NeverTrump camp all seem to revolve around a perceived threat that a President Donald J. Trump will somehow “destroy social conservatism” or cripple the conservative movement in general. These are the ones which leave me rolling my eyes.
John McCormack asked the same question at the Weekly Standard recently, adding more fuel to what seems to be a lot of smoke with very little fire underneath.
“I could never in a million years pull a lever for Hillary Clinton. Her character is at least as bad as Trump’s, and her policies are if anything even worse than those he proposes,” says [Princeton professor Robert] George. But he still worries that Trump could do more damage to conservatism and the country than Clinton in the long-term: “I cannot say right now that the consequences of four years of Hillary would be worse than four years of Trump.”
Social conservatives are used to voting for candidates—including Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Mitt Romney—who have, like Trump, changed their positions on abortion. What they have not yet tolerated is voting for a man whose public behavior is so deplorable he could degrade the culture and discredit the moral authority of his supporters, their organizations, and their party for a generation…
“What really concerns me about social conservatives, especially people like Mike Huckabee, and Ben Carson—I’d include Bill Bennett in this—are people who have written books about the importance of character,” says Michael Cromartie, who directs the Evangelicals in Civic Life and Faith Angle Forum programs at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.
You’re ascribing an awful lot of power to one person. But even if we were to accept that the President has some magical power to affect the nation in the way described, we’re skipping over a key distinction between the two concepts under discussion: social conservatism and the government.
Social conservatism is a movement. If you prefer, it’s an ideology. It’s the force of will and general consensus found among millions of Americans who know where they want the country to be headed and – at least in general – how they want to get there. The government, on the other hand, is a massive beast with a lair in the District of Columbia, but having tentacles which reach across all fifty states and, indeed, the world.
The saving grace for those fretting over McCormack’s question is that social conservatism isn’t going anywhere or changing noticeably just because someone you don’t like is in the Oval Office. If such an effect were even remotely possible, there wouldn’t be a single social conservative left in the United States after eight years of Obama. Yet here you all stand, ready to debate who should replace him. Some will quickly argue that it’s the impression it leaves on everyone else. If Trump is elected, they posit, then people will simply assume that he has the support of and speaks for conservatives.
Who cares? Are you going to suddenly start voting differently because some anonymous mass of media consumers assumes that you supported Trump? Would any of your friends? This is pointless hand wringing of the highest order.
The Government, on the other hand, actually can change things, depending how long one particular group holds the reins of power. Thankfully, all of these effects are temporary in nature to one degree or another, but we tend to suffer a fair deal during that period with the wrong person in office. Laws signed by one President can be undone by the next with a willing congressional majority. Regulations and executive orders can, for the most part, be wiped away with the stroke of a pen and the assignment of new leaders in various cabinet offices. You have four, or at most eight years to slug it out if you can muster your forces for a win next time around. The Supreme Court is a stickier wicket, however, where the wrong president can cast a nasty shadow far beyond their own life span in some cases.
Keeping all of that in mind, are we granting Donald Trump just a wee bit too much mystical power here? The point is, no matter how much you hate this or that aspect of the man, you can ride out four or eight years of him and try again. While he’s in office he may make some calls you agree with and others you despise. We simply don’t know yet. Or you can sit by for the same period with Hillary in charge and there’s zero question which way she will go on any issue. Believe me… you won’t like any of them.
But there’s one constant standing behind each of these scenarios: when either of these people finish their term(s) and ride off into the sunset, social conservatives will still be there waiting. And maybe you can do better in the next primaries than was managed this year.