Dear Principled Conservatives,
I suspect that today, the 4th of May 2016, most of your greatest fears have been realized. Donald J. Trump is going to be the Republican Nominee for President of the United States. The immediate fall out has been intense, with many on social media burning their Republican cards, literally and figuratively. Many have pledged to support Hillary Clinton in the fall, and feel no compunction in doing so. In their eyes, a guaranteed continuation of the Obama Doctrine in all respects is superior to Donald Trump.
I understand your line of reasoning, because the fact of the matter is that Donald Trump is not a principled conservative, at least in the Ronald Reagan mold.
The Reagan Revolution, which many of you cite as the foundation for your conservatism, probably began in 1964, with Reagan’s famous ‘Time for Choosing’ speech. While it was full of memorable quotes, I’d like to highlight the following:
…And this idea that government is beholden to the people, that it has no other source of power except the sovereign people, is still the newest and the most unique idea in all the long history of man’s relation to man.
This is the issue of this election: Whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capitol can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.
From this sentiment grew an ideology based on economic and social conservatism. Added to this was a military toughness which developed as a response to the threat of communism spreading across the globe. Most of those views are what the self-styled ‘Principled Conservative’ of 2016 purports to hold.
In my view, two strains of Conservatives apply this label to themselves – the ‘Establishment’ Republicans who have descended from the Reagan/Bush political family tree, and their supporters – and the Tea Party types who rose up at the beginning of this decade, partly in opposition to those Establishment strain.
Both groups have failed, for different reasons.
The failure of ‘Establishment’ Republicans is rooted in the discrepancy between the rhetoric and the actions. As much as you might recoil at the sound of terms like ‘neocon’ and ‘RINO,’ the potency of those terms come from the fact there is some truth in them.
Over the last four plus decades, Republican administrations and Congresses have overseen massive increases in the size of government, exactly what Reagan spoke so steadfastly against in 1964. During election season, many Republicans trip over themselves mentioning Reagan, weaving his ‘government is the problem’ threads into the fabric of their campaigns.
Yet when the final figures are tabulated, government is always bigger. The amounts the average taxpayer, present and future, are to be responsible for, are always larger.
Any attempt at serious cuts in government spending can’t be done because even slowing the advance of government would be admitting that the campaign promises can’t be kept, which in turn would be effectively ceding power to the Democrats.
This is the frame establishment Republicans have ended up working from. The desire to maintain power became superior to the desire to do what is right for the American people.
It’s been much the same trend with respect to social conservatism. In this regard, mainstream Republican candidates have often played lip service to ‘Judeo-Christian values’ and vowed to stand up for the traditional family. Yet it was Reagan himself who introduced no-fault divorce in 1969 as Governor of California, ushering in a wave of broken families and ultimately a fatherless generation. Once again, the actions didn’t match up with the rhetoric.
To the tea party strain of Principled Conservatism, your failures have been more operational in nature. Where the establishment strain talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk, you talk the talk and run the walk.
If the United States is an aircraft carrier which is going in the wrong direction, you are attempting to turn it around by tying a rope to a row boat, tying the other end to the aircraft carrier and paddling with all of your might. It’s a futile effort.
Free Northerner wrote a fantastic post about why right-wing activism in its current form will fail. I suggest you read it in full.
The gist of it is that the cultural and political zeitgeists are dominated by progressives. They currently hold the power, and determine what is and isn’t acceptable.
Because of this, a true adherence to the Reaganesqe tenets of Principled Conservatism, to the letter, is becoming more and more unacceptable. Establishment types have come to understand this over the years, which is why they’ve evolved to betray those principles once in office in an attempt to hold on to power.
In many ways, I can sympathize with these politicians for behaving this way. After all, they are human, and as such are subjected to the observations of Lord Acton with respect to power. This is why the Founding Fathers were so torn over the idea of giving the government lots of it in the first place.
If you as Principled Conservatives are actually prepared to walk the walk in terms of the ideology, you will first need to have a culture which is amenable to such an ideology. How, for example, do you expect to actually cut spending enough to run a balanced budget, when roughly half the country doesn’t pay taxes, and thinks the half that does isn’t paying enough?
How do you expect to cultivate a society of strong families and tight knit communities when nihilism has replaced faith, and the idea that there is something larger than oneself is foreign to most?
Andrew Breitbart famously said that politics is downstream from culture. That means that the culture has to change before the politics. Both strains have failed to understand this. The Establishment strain has tried to mold its politics to the culture, while the Tea Party has tried to jackhammer the culture with its politics.
The end result is Establishment candidates who end up adopting non Principled Conservative views, or a handful of hardline Tea Partiers who are easily marginalized and dismissed. Both strategies are losing strategies.
If you actually do want to implement true, principled conservatism, as opposed to merely using the idea as an avenue for power, the only way to achieve it is to reshape the culture.
The quickest way of doing that, believe it or not, is a Donald Trump presidency.
As I mentioned before, the culture is controlled by progressive ideals. Despite what you may feel about Trump, the bottom line is that he is a winner, and has a winner’s attitude. You simply don’t acquire billions of dollars and then seemingly on a whim walk into the most crowded Republican Primary field ever and come out the victor, all the while being a rookie, without having some sort of predilection for success ingrained in you.
That habit of success, when applied to the country writ large, is going to transform it positively. Recall that this is an America which prefers to be apologetic to the rest of the world about its exceptionalism, a stance directly opposite to what Reagan held.
The course modern politicians, including Principled Conservatives, have set us on is one that makes America more like the rest of the world. Trump, on the other hand has been explicit in his wish to repudiate the ‘false song of globalism.’
Trump’s campaign seeks to free America from the chains which it has tied to itself over the course of the last 50 years. These chains include phenomena like political correctness, globalism, excessive regulation, the transformation from an economy resting on savings and investment, to an economy resting on credit expansion and conspicuous consumption.
If, and only if such trends are reversed, Reagan style conservatism will both be palatable and effective in the United States once again.
It was Jeffery Lord, a Trump supporting political commentator on CNN who had the most poignant remark in the aftermath of the Indiana Primary last night. Paraphrasing, he stated that the Reagan/Bush domination of the 80s elections ushered in a certain complacency in the GOP. The growing web of lobbyists, donors, strategists and so forth created a DC echo chamber which grew further and further away from the public at large. In short, the GOP became the very ‘little intellectual elite in a far distant capitol’ which Reagan had feared. When the average American thinks of the GOP, they think of images like the following:
It screams ‘out of touch.’ Yet the GOP remained supported, by a constituency who saw them as their only hope, for simply being less bad than the Democrats.
And then they stopped supporting.
The canary in the coal mine was the defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in 2014. His defeat by a Tea Party candidate in a primary was the first of a sitting Majority Leader in history. John Boehner was next to fall, and finally the heir apparent to the throne of GOP Establishment politics, Jeb Bush, was eviscerated by Donald Trump.
I implore you, Principled Conservatives of all stripes, to heed the call. Understand and accept the change in trend, or get left behind. To the Establishment strain, you are holding a losing hand. To the Tea Party strain, you are holding a winning hand, which is being played poorly. The sooner you understand this, the sooner you will be able to seize the opportunity that comes with a Trump Presidency.
This opportunity is to actually restore Principled Conservatism. For example, media and entertainment entities which promulgate political correctness and other leftist culture staples are starting to struggle and will need replacing.
Instead of hand-wringing, Principled Conservatives should be working to build alternatives, molded in the image of the truths that Principled Conservatism speaks to. The likes of Milo Yiannopoulos, Mike Cernovich, Steven Crowder, and others have built impressive outlets for views consistent with many of Reagan’s views, despite not being Principled Conservatives by the letter of the label.
As it is with Trump. I completely disagree with him on some of his major positions, in particular on trade. I don’t agree with the GOP Establishment view which supports ‘Free Trade,’ because their version of it is a falsehood. Real Free Trade doesn’t involve government decree at all.
I still support Trump, because I believe that at a fundamental level, his candidacy is an catalyst for course correction. Once the aircraft carrier has been turned in the right direction, we can concern ourselves with the details of how we move forward, in that right direction.
You, Principled Conservatives, want to be there when that discussion is had. Getting behind Trump is the first step. There is still time to punch your ticket to the Trump Train. Don’t wait too long though.