I’d really hoped that we’d have seen the last of these clothes-rending pleas by the time we were down to the last seven weeks of the campaign, but apparently not. It continues to amaze me that strident anti-Trump conservatives still openly weep about how the potential election of Donald Trump as the next president will somehow spell “the end of conservatism” but that’s precisely what popped up once again from Ben Shapiro yesterday.
Ben, a pundit I enjoy reading and respect greatly, hangs on to this strange theory like a bull terrier in his piece. He first lumps Trump supporters into several categories including the “alt-right” (which, like many others now bandying about the phrase, I’m guessing he never uttered before this year), Buchananites, Hillaryphobes and all manner of nefarious scoundrels. This is followed by a conclusion that those who might cast a vote for Trump have “given in” to a love for big government and everything else which would supposedly drive the final nail into the coffin of conservatism.
There may be truth to this. Perhaps we’ve already lost. As early as 2007, George Will wrote that Republicans had to acknowledge the American desire for “strong government” – i.e. big government. I acknowledged this problem, and wrote at the time, “Republicans, therefore, have a double task when it comes to economics: teaching and winning…It is a tough sell. It will require an articulate politician, and a courageous one – it is always easier to pander than to speak the truth.” Rush is one of those who has always focused on both teaching and winning; I trust that shrugging off Trump’s leftism isn’t the first move toward shrugging off the war against big government altogether.
What this ignores is the vast majority of Republican voters and conservatives who have no need for this sort of snake oil. Those “categories” which Ben lists comprise a handful of writers and some number of anonymous, racist twitter trolls. For everyone else (now virtually the same percentage of Republicans who manage to support the nominee every four years), their conservatism is not defined by the President. At the best of times it’s only reflected by the President, and never on each and every issue. They continue to be the ones pulling the levers on those down ballot races and electing Republicans to Congress… the same congressional Republicans who the President – be it Trump or anyone else – must have on board to get a single piece of legislation passed.
Still, we are treated to this dramatic summary which spells out The End Times.
But too many Republicans are so eager for a victory for which they hunger that they are willing to put a stake through the heart of the cause for which they supposedly fight. If they succeed, victory will turn to ash in their mouths.
This high moral horse should be put out to pasture by everyone working to defeat Hillary, keeping in mind that all the horses will be welcomed back to the stable once the race is done, no matter who wins. As long as Trump was losing badly to Hillary in the polls, the anti-Trump folks were free to crow and preen, singing an I Told You So song. Now the winds appear to be shifting and the real estate mogul is at least pulling even, if not ahead, both nationally and in key swing states. He may win or he may come up with the same losing margin that Mitt Romney did. Neither would be as rewarding to those fighting Trump from behind his own lines as an electoral wipeout, but once the smoke clears, none of that will matter.
Even if Trump winds up in the Oval Office, the same old coalition of Republicans and other conservatives will be determining what bills get passed and if he even gets a shot at a second term in the next primary. And as it’s been throughout the living memory of all current GOP voters, some Republicans will fit your particular definition of “conservative” while others will not. If Trump, as president, winds up supporting too many liberal agenda items but the GOP retains control of both chambers of Congress, we’ll have the same old gridlock we’ve been living with for years.
We need to stop pretending that conservatives around the country are such a flock of mindless sheep that the actions of others immediately tarnish their own fundamental values and purpose. That’s on par with the idea that your own traditional marriage will somehow crumble if the two lesbians who live next door tie the knot or that you’ll suddenly feel compelled to abort your own babies if we fail to overturn Roe v. Wade next year. As for the results on November 8th… if your own conservatism crumbles to dust because of the name of the 45th president, the glue holding it together wasn’t very strong to begin with.
Submitted without comment or rebuttal from me, Ben offered a nicely phrased response to this column, stating that I’ve misinterpreted portions of what he’s said. That letter is reprinted here in full.
Thanks to Jazz Shaw for allowing me to respond here.
I have no problem with Jazz’s criticisms of the piece – they’re frequently expressed. I do, however, think that Jazz significantly mischaracterizes my position. He suggests that I conclude that “those who might cast a vote for Trump have ‘given in’ to a love for big government and everything else which would supposedly drive the final nail into the coffin of conservatism.” That’s perfectly wrong. It completely ignores this paragraph from my original piece, which explicitly says that you can vote for Trump without destroying conservatism:
Conservatism will only die when its leading advocates become its detractors. This has been my fear of the Trump transformation – that in order to defeat Hillary Clinton, Republicans were willing to do anything, including embracing Hillary-esque policy. That’s happening. It doesn’t have to; there’s a rational position that rejects Trump’s ideas when they represent leftism, but still supports him over Hillary. That’s Mark Levin’s position, for example: educate about conservatism while making a lesser-of-two evils choice. There are also those, like me, who refuse to embrace a Republican candidate who fights against basic conservative principles.
So no, I never claimed that anyone who “might cast a vote for Trump” is destroying conservatism. I never even implied it, and that’s never, even remotely, been my position. I have contended that those like Hannity, Ingraham, and Gingrich are destroying conservatism by shifting it to fit Trump.
Jazz suggests that most Republican voters won’t shift their views to fit Trump, but I think that’s rather sanguine – we’re already watching the polls shift on everything from Putin friendliness to trade. He says that conservatives aren’t a “flock of mindless sheep.” Of course they aren’t. They didn’t vote for Trump during the primaries. But thought leaders matter, and party leaders matter. Over time, people shift based on the leadership of their movements. To deny that seems rather short-sighted. It’s actually rather ironic that Jazz suggests as an analogy the idea that gay marriage hasn’t impacted people’s marriages – but of course, it has impacted people’s views on homosexuality and its acceptability. He also tries to state that Roe v. Wade hasn’t made you have an abortion – but clearly it’s shifted opinions on the moral decency of abortion. That’s the question: how does Trumpism affect people’s views? I’m not concerned with my conservatism “crumbling to dust,” as Jazz puts it, thanks to Trump; I am concerned that Trumpism mainstreamed is conservatism threatened.
Jazz is also pretty sanguine about Congress’ willingness to stop Trump or fight him; the same people who have complained for years about Congress caving to Obama now think that Mitch McConnell will turn into a tough-as-nails advocate on behalf of the conservative agenda? He’s not even going to invoke the nuclear option to push through a conservative Supreme Court justice.
Finally, Jazz writes of the notion that #NeverTrump people were saying “I told you so” as Trump imploded. That’s true, although I always acknowledged Trump might win. But we also say “I told you so” every time he moves radically to the left, and conservative thought leaders, including many people I respect, ignore that or play it as quasi-conservative.