Politics & Policy

What Now, Conservatives?

(Chris Keane/Reuters)
It’s not too early to start rebuilding from the ashes.

The party of Lincoln is in ruins. A minority of its primary voters have torched its founders’ legacy by voting for a man who combines old-school Democratic ideology, a bizarre form of hyper-violent isolationism, fringe conspiracy theories, and serial lies with an enthusiastic flock of online racists to create perhaps the most toxic electoral coalition since George Wallace. Then — to add insult to injury — multiple GOP leaders bulldozed the ashes by issuing nauseating calls for unity, foremost among them Reince Priebus:

Reince, you should resign rather than spending one more ounce of personal energy supporting a reprehensible man.

So, what now? If the conservative movement is to endure in the short term and prevail in the long term, it has to combine immediate short-term responses with a number of long-term strategic changes. This is a clarifying moment in American political history — a moment that gives conservatives the opportunity to act decisively, to start anew.

First, it is absolutely vital that conservatives stay firm in their opposition to Trump. For at least a generation, the Left has been arguing that American conservatism is shot through with racism, sexism, and xenophobia. And now millions of Americans will face the difficult task of rebutting charges of hateful bigotry while supporting a man who gives aid and comfort to avowed racists, incites violence, and can’t even consistently disavow the Klan. Trump is the destroyer of conservatism, and he will taint all who take his side.

Next, donors, activists, and volunteers must go all-in to preserve the Republican majority in the House (the Senate as well, but that’s a tall order). Hundreds of millions of donor dollars are sitting on the sideline, along with tens of thousands of demoralized volunteers. If the House falls, we’ll potentially see cap-and-trade, card check, expansive new gun-control regulations, and amnesty. Moreover, if the House falls, don’t assume it can be retaken with ease. A GOP that nominates Trump and potentially loses its congressional majorities risks wandering in the wilderness for years — assuming it even survives as a viable political party.

Reject the cult of celebrity in favor of building enduring, meaningful conservative cultural institutions.

Third, conservatives should double-down on their commitment to state-level political action. Multiple red-state legislatures are now stocked with constitutional conservatives who are ready and willing to implement conservative ideas in state governance. Conservatives still have an opportunity to enact policies that will preserve liberty and liberate the free market for millions of Americans — all while presenting sharp contrasts with blue states that are choking on public-employee pensions and suppressing economic activity with high taxes and burdensome regulations.

Fourth, reject the cult of celebrity in favor of building enduring, meaningful conservative cultural institutions. If the current election cycle has revealed anything, it’s demonstrated that large chunks of the celebrity Right — you know, the people who spent most of the last ten years or so calling out “RINOs” and proclaiming themselves the true arbiters of American conservatism — have proven that they’re little more than populist audience-whores, following where the lowest common denominator leads.

#share#Thoughtful conservative institutions, by contrast, contain multiple checks against extremism and demagoguery. They’re invested in the long game, not in capturing and extending that elusive 15 minutes of fame. A college like Hillsdale will play a vital role in rebuilding American conservatism, and — yes — so will magazines like National Review. I can think of any number of conservative institutions that are patiently making that “long march” through American culture. It’s time to march beside them.

Fifth, the best solution for rolling back the extraordinary growth, power, and increasing corruption of the federal government is the convention of states, the Article V remedy for a runaway president and an out-of-control Congress. If two-thirds of states submit an application for a convention to propose constitutional amendments, then any proposed amendments can be ratified by three-fourths of state legislatures — circumventing the federal government entirely.

#related#For some time I’ve been advising the Convention of States Project. It’s making progress (Tennessee, for example, just became the fifth state to call for a convention), and the Article V effort has been endorsed by conservatives such as Marc Levin, Marco Rubio, George Will, Ron Johnson, Tom Coburn, and National Review’s Andy McCarthy.

Finally, conservatives need to live their values. If we seek integrity in politics, we should act with integrity in politics. Advocate limited government while helping your neighbor. Have the courage to fight the small battles in your community, but do so with grace. Defend religious liberty for the purpose of living faithfully. Leave self-righteousness to the social-justice warriors. We know — now more than ever — that a great nation needs good citizens. It’s our obligation to be the citizens our nation needs.

So, yes, conservatives must remain steadfast in opposition to Trump, but they must do so with a plan. A rebirth is necessary. Let it begin today.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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