Politics & Policy

No, Conservatism Isn’t Dying Out

(Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)
After 30 years of falling apart, the GOP looks pretty good.

As my colleague Jonah Goldberg notes, the Left and some of the Right has long been waiting for a “conservative crack-up,” first predicted by R. Emmett Tyrell Jr. of The American Spectator . . . a generation ago. I am a middle-aged man with more grey in my beard than I would really like to see in the morning, but I was a high-school boy when Mr. Tyrell wrote that book.

These crack-ups are an awful long time coming.

If you spend very much time reading the Left’s advocacy journalism — as I do, for my sins — then you are accustomed to seeing headlines about the pending destruction of the Republican party and the conservative movement. It has been nearly 15 years since John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira heralded “The Emerging Democratic Majority” in their celebrated book by that title. Articles titled “The End of the Republican Party” or similar are found almost daily not only in moonbat online journals such as Salon but in the New York Times.

This isn’t new. The failure to convict Bill Clinton in his impeachment trial was welcomed by Democrats as the end of the Republican party, as a sign of its “disarray” — they are fond of that word, for some reason — and its debilitating internal contradictions. Clinton’s election had been similarly greeted, as was Barack Obama’s. The eventual unpopularity of the Iraq war among the fickle and childish American electorate was supposed to have made the GOP a pariah for a generation. The Donald is not the first trump sounding the conservative apocalypse.

After all that, where is the Republican party, and the conservative movement, in actuality?

The Republican party enjoys majorities in both houses of Congress, and commands a large majority of the state legislative houses and governorships.

Despite what all the best and the brightest assured us was inevitable, the Republican party is in its strongest electoral position since the presidency of Herbert Hoover. It enjoys majorities in both houses of Congress, and commands a large majority of the state legislative houses and governorships. Conservatives have won important debates and political victories on everything from taxation to free speech to foreign policy. Those conservatives who complain that the Right hasn’t accomplished very much forget where the country was in 1955 when National Review was founded and central planning was assumed by all the right people to be the model of the future, or where the country’s domestic policies stood in 1980 or its national-security policies in 2000.

Electoral controversies are only signs of catastrophic disarray for Republicans.

The fact is that Senator Bernie Sanders, the honking Vermont socialist, currently enjoys higher standing in the national polls than does Donald Trump. He may win Iowa and is at the moment poised to win New Hampshire. His philosophy is in fact much more radically at odds with the mainstream of American politics than is Donald Trump’s daft and vulgar populism. His ideas are the ideas of Hugo Chávez and Edmondo Rossoni (though he probably doesn’t know the name) filtered through the loopy 1970s cultural radicalism that at one point had Senator Sanders arguing that cervical cancer is caused by an orgasm deficit.

RELATED: Trump and Sanders: True Populists?

Senator Sanders, whose politics are best suited to a soft quiet room, as of this writing stands about 1 point ahead of Trump’s national numbers in the RealClearPolitics average of polls. But his emergence is not treated in the media as an existential crisis for the Democratic party or the progressive movement the way Trump’s is for Republicans and the Right.

This is related to a similar theme in our public discourse: Conservatives are not allowed to be popular.

#share#My friend Nick Gillespie of Reason magazine has written an unfortunately sneering piece blaming National Review for the emergence of Trump, among other things noting the magazine’s preference for an assertive foreign policy (Gillespie calls this bellicosity) and particularly cites the magazine’s support for the Iraq war . . . which Trump opposed, or at least says he opposed. Likewise, Gillespie blames the National Review’s corporate views on immigration for the emergence of Trump, who does not share those views. Nicole Hemmer, writing in U.S. News and World Report, makes a similar argument under the headline “National Review rejects the populism it fostered.” What follows is a familiar litany: Fox News, talk radio, etc. have pushed the Republican party in a conservative direction, which set the stage for . . . Donald Trump, who, if nominated, would be the least conservative Republican presidential candidate since self-styled progressive Teddy Roosevelt.

What should conservatives do? What can they do? Oppose Trump, of course.

Whatever one imagines to be the sins of Rush Limbaugh or Fox News, those sins are at least matched, if not exceeded, by their counterparts on the Left, the vegan rage of SiriusXM Progress and MSNBC and the like. The critical difference is: Conservatives are good at it. Despite vast piles of money and stores of energy directed at the project, there is no left-wing talk radio of any real significance to speak of, unless one counts the bland suburban progressivism of NPR. Fox News on a good night exceeds in audience share the rest of its cable news competitors combined. It surely is not lost on our counterparts on the Left that the peaks of Republican-party power have coincided with the influence of organized conservatism and its journals, whereas the apex of Democratic power came under Bill Clinton, who ran as hard against the campus-crusader radicalism of The Nation and Mother Jones as he did against George H. W. Bush. Mrs. Clinton is running against that same radicalism, albeit less convincingly and less successfully.

RELATED: Conservatives Against Trump

Popularity isn’t quality — we can be sure that Kanye West will sell more music than Beethoven this year, and that more young Americans will acquire STDs than Ph.D.s — but if you are a broadcaster or a political campaign, it cannot be ignored, either.

This is in essence a vast exercise in concern-trolling by progressives. National Review et al. have, in this analysis, simply been too effective, driving the Republican party to such exotic reaches of extremism that it is — do pardon me for noticing — winning previously unimaginable political victories in Wisconsin, New Jersey, Michigan . . .

#related#Yes, of course Trump is a problem, and he could hand the 2016 presidential election to the Democrats as Ross Perot did in 1992. And inchoate populism is not, and never has been, a reliable ally of conservatism, a philosophy that begins with the assumption that most public appetites will never be satisfied and that many of them shouldn’t be satisfied even if it were possible. What should conservatives do? What can they do? Oppose Trump, of course.

But regardless of what happens on Election Day 2016, we will wake up in a world in which property rights need to be secured, free trade protected and expanded, government limited, the rule of law honored, children reared, citizenship cultivated, and enemies defeated. These are among what Russell Kirk called “the permanent things,” and the defense of them, which we call “conservatism,” is the permanent burden of free people. That isn’t going anywhere.

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