One of the great lies of the last election cycle didn’t come from Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. It came from conservatives.
Specifically, the lie came from conservatives who suggested that after Trump was elected — after the Hildebeast had been defeated! — they would go back to holding Trump accountable, pushing for better public policy. Everything had to be put on hold to stop the Democrats from taking power, every heresy tolerated. But once Trump took the White House, conservatives could return to their political philosophy.
It now appears that the cognitive dissonance associated with Trump support has morphed into full-blown Stockholm syndrome, with conservatives now waiving principle not to defeat Hillary Clinton, but to back Trump down the line. Many conservatives now say that Trump’s American Health Care Act was the best available bad option. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and President Trump had presented a crap sandwich, to be sure, but it was the best available crap sandwich. Never mind its 17 percent public-approval rating. Never mind its accelerated death spiral. Never mind its new entitlement, its maintenance of key Obamacare regulations, or its increased premiums for the next few years.
Trump wanted it; thus it was good; thus it had to be passed. It was The Best We Were Going To Do™.
Except that it wasn’t. It wasn’t the legislative process that required a bill cramdown on the president’s own party within a three-week period. It wasn’t the legislative process that offered an ultimatum to conservatives to embrace the suck. It wasn’t the legislative process that demanded conservatives sign on to all the policies they opposed when Obama promulgated them. It was Trump. And because Ryan thought that his best option involved parlaying with Trump rather than going through the rough business of policymaking, he negotiated with himself to create a one-off bill, hoping that Trump would bring the anti-establishment conservatives and that he’d bring the establishment Republicans.
It failed, in part because of Trump’s artificial deadline, in part because Trump would never have pushed a truly conservative piece of legislation that did away with preexisting-conditions regulations, and in part because Ryan decided to go along with Trump’s program in order to push through his long-awaited structural changes to Medicaid. And then, to top it off, Trump deployed famed subtle touch Steve Bannon to scream at Republicans about how they had to get their minds right or they’d spend the night in the box.
The bill was bad, and it deserved to go down in flames. The strategy was worse. Barack Obama spent 13 months hammering out Obamacare. Trump spent 17 days. But who gets blamed? The conservatives who actually took their promises about repealing Obamacare seriously. The gaddumed fools thought that it mattered whether they actually got rid of Obamacare. All they had to know was that many conservatives only cared about propping up Trump.
And so too many conservatives turned on the Freedom Caucus, which saved Republicans from passing an odious piece of legislation that would have crippled Republicans for years. They argued that Republicans had to go along with Trumpcare, because it was the “lesser of two evils.” They followed Trump’s lead, as Trump outrageously blamed the Freedom Caucus for preserving Planned Parenthood funding and Obamacare. The more to the left Trump moves, the more incompetently he governs, the more unpopular he becomes, the more his election defenders feel the need to defend him beyond the election.
There’s been a lot of talk about Never Trumpers dumping on Trump in order to prove they were right during the election cycle. There’s some truth to that — figures such as Evan McMullin seem dedicated to the proposition that everything Trump touches turns to hot garbage. But that case is overstated. Most of those who didn’t vote for Trump or Hillary have praised Trump fulsomely for conservative actions such as the nomination of Judge Gorsuch, his approach to cutting regulation, and most of his cabinet appointments.
There’s been far less talk about ardent Trump defenders who are now shifting their arguments about Trump’s supposed brilliance because they wish to avoid the non-brilliant reality of his presidency.
Remember when Trump would be a great president because he was a great negotiator? That old chestnut has been discarded in favor of “Trump got played by that Machiavellian Snidely Ryan.”
Remember when Trump would know how to work with Congress, because he wasn’t tied down to ideology? That’s been tossed out the window in favor of screaming about conservative obstructionism.
Remember when Trump would be the most conservative president ever, and this whole populist shtick would merely be a cover for a Mike Pence policy? That’s gone, and Trump’s now going to be the greatest aisle-reacher in history.
Remember when Trump would know how to fix D.C., because only he knew how corrupt it was? Now we hear that Trump didn’t understand the extent of the problem in D.C.
Remember when Trump’s toughness would mean that nobody would cross him? That argument now reads, “Trump’s so tough, he knew when to walk away.”
In other words, many conservatives have become religious Trumpians. There is nothing Trump can do to lose their love and respect. If he turns to the left, they’ll blame conservatives for failing to kowtow to leftist policy. If he gets nothing done, they’ll blame everybody else on earth for failing to support Trump properly. The god must be appeased.
And so the soul-sucking of many conservatives continues apace. This doesn’t mean that Trump won’t give conservatives some wins — he most assuredly will. And those wins deserve celebration. But the question remains: When Trump crosses conservatives, will their allegiance remain with him, or with the philosophy they supposedly sought to uphold in electing him to avoid Hillary Clinton?