Before I wade into the overwrought debate over the prospective 2016 Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump, allow me several caveats. First, like many conservatives, I supported a candidate other than Trump during the primary season (while also acknowledging that he brought a refreshing degree of candor, on issues such as immigration, to the GOP campaign). Second, while I understand that weighing “the lesser of two evils” is distasteful to ideological purists, it is a grim reality of partisan politics, and (unfortunately) ignoring that reality does not alter it; the next President will be either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. Third, I am not trying to persuade anyone that Trump is an ideal candidate or that a certain degree of reservation about his character and policy positions is not justified.
As I will endeavor to explain briefly below, notwithstanding my disappointment regarding the now-inevitable nomination of Trump as the Republican candidate for President in 2016, I find the hysteria regarding his candidacy both baffling and unwarranted. Many conservative magazines (e.g., National Review, The Weekly Standard, Commentary), blog sites (e.g., RedState, Erick Erickson’s The Resurgent), and political figures (e.g., failed 2012 nominee Mitt Romney, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE)) have become all #NeverTrump, all the time. Other right-leaning publications (e.g., the Wall Street Journal editorial page and The Federalist) regularly make their distaste for Trump (and his supporters) abundantly clear. As a lifelong Republican who has voted in every presidential election since 1976, I cannot recall any similar expression of disdain by the conservative commentariat for another major GOP candidate. The condemnation of Trump is especially perplexing given that his broad appeal has garnered more primary votes than any other Republican presidential candidate in history.
In a critically important election against a weak and unpopular (and therefore beatable) Democrat opponent, the rabid anti-Trump sentiment is a prescription for defeat — ensuring the equivalent of four (or eight) more years of the Obama administration, a fate our nation (and the free world) may not survive. It is time for the #NeverTrump absolutists to breath into a paper bag, calm down, and regain their senses. Consider these appeals to reason:
Politics is not the same as political philosophy, let alone religion. The goal of politics is to win elections, and then to govern, not the discovery of eternal truths, teaching etiquette, or saving souls. So why are the pundits demanding doctrinal inerrancy and impeccable patrician style from the GOP standard-bearer? Trump’s populist rhetoric is enormously appealing to middle class voters (many of whom are registered Democrats or independents), a voter bloc Republicans need to secure in order to win national elections. In a democracy, we can’t forget that “demos” refers to “common people.” Trump is able to connect with what we used to call “Reagan Democrats” in a way that Romney never did. Granted, Trump’s supporters are not all intellectuals who read the highbrow #NeverTrump publications listed above, but that doesn’t mean that the disenchantment of Trump voters with the status quo is misplaced or unjustified. To the extent the #NeverTrump pundits have enabled the Washington Establishment, they share some responsibility for the alienated voters who chose Trump out of a crowded field of more conventional candidates.
Conservatism is a big tent, without a rigid pedigree. The #NeverTrump crowd maintains that “Trump is not a real conservative,” but forgets that conservatism is a big tent, without a specified pedigree. The modern conservative movement in America can be traced back to the founding of National Review in 1955. NR was an eclectic mix of Viennese Jewish intellectuals (Willi Schlamm), bookish academics (Willmoore Kendall), diehard McCarthy-ites (L. Brent Bozell), libertarians (Frank Chodorov), Burkean conservatives (Russell Kirk), anti-Communists (James Burnham), southern agrarians (Richard Weaver), and “fusionists” who combined the tenets of laissez-faire capitalism with conservative traditionalism (Frank Meyer), many of whom were former Communists. They frequently feuded internally. The only voices deliberately excluded were anti-Semites and isolationists. NR’s self-described mission was to “stand athwart history, yelling Stop.” The disparate early contributors to NRincluded a brooding former Soviet spy turned journalist (Whittaker Chambers), who famously savaged Atlas Shrugged in the pages of NR, to the consternation of Ayn Rand’s many acolytes.
It is a testament to the success of the conservative movement that some proponents believe there is an official orthodoxy, but history suggests otherwise. The pantheon of conservative figures over the past century include ardent isolationists such as Sen. Robert A. Taft (R-OH), textile magnate and protectionistRoger Milliken, segregationist Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-SC) (who once ran for President as the States Rights Democratic Party candidate), and the U.S. President who oversaw the deportation of over one million illegal aliens from Mexico in 1954 — trigger warning: known as “Operation Wetback” — Dwight D. Eisenhower. Trump’s positions on the issues do not coincide in all respects with the editorial views of various conservative publications and pundits, but that merely shows that the movement is neither static nor monolithic.
Ronald Reagan doesn’t define the GOP. I greatly respect Reagan, voted for him twice, and cherish a photo of him taken with me. I wish he were on the ballot in 2016. Alas, he is not. So we are left with the prospective nominee. Some pundits claim that Trump is a disgrace to the GOP, and that his nomination will “ruin” the Republican Party. Seriously? Greater ruination than the supplicants in the GOP congressional leadership who have acceded to a doubling of the national debt under President Obama (along with most of his unlawful executive edicts)? Greater than the administrations of Richard Nixon (creation of EPA, support of busing and affirmative action, appointment of Harry Blackmun, Watergate), Gerald Ford (appointment of John Paul Stevens), George H.W. Bush (support of Americans with Disabilities Act, appointment of David Souter, “kinder and gentler nation”), George W. Bush (support of No Child Left Behind and Medicare drug benefits, advocacy of amnesty, Iraq War, TARP bailouts)? Greater than the candidacies of Bob “Tax Collector for the Welfare State” Dole (1996); John McCain (2008), champion of campaign finance reform, global warming, and amnesty; and Mitt Romney (2012), architect of “Romneycare,” Massachusetts’ mandatory universal health care program? The Republican Party has survived many presidential candidates with qualifications and experience no greater than Trump’s: e.g., Ben Carson, Steve Forbes, Herman Cain, Alan Keyes, and Pat Robertson, none of whom provoked threats by conservatives to organize a third party challenge.
In short, politics is not perfect, and neither is Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton is far worse, and if conservatives don’t overcome their #NeverTrump hysteria, she will be getting sworn in on January 20, 2017 and thereafter determine the direction of the U.S. Supreme Court for generations to come. Republicans should unite behind #NeverHillary.