David Harsanyi says that “if Trump prevails in the primaries, principled small-government conservatives (however many are left) will be faced with a distasteful choice: They can either back the nominee, picked fairly by the rank-and-file of the party, or they can disregard party politics and actively try and sink him.” Neither option will end well, he goes on to argue.
From context, it appears that Harsanyi is writing about people who are, so to speak, conservatives professionally. He writes that people who choose to back Trump will “be spending the rest of their careers justifying the support.” Most conservative voters aren’t in this position, and don’t feel any great pressure to make a public endorsement of a candidate.
The conservatives about whom Harsanyi is writing could choose to act like them. They could, that is, give up the pretense that the fate of the country hangs on their words—a view that would have just been exposed as an illusion in the primaries—and look at the race with a degree of detachment: defending Trump when they think he deserves defense, criticizing him when they think he deserves criticism.
This is prediction, not advocacy: A lot of conservative and libertarian writers normally associated with the Republican camp would choose this option if Trump were the nominee. (Others would blend it with a tepid endorsement of Trump.) About this less engaged stance, Harsanyi writes, “For those who think they can embrace neutrality to escape this fight, their silence will be treated as tacit endorsement by liberals and treachery by Trump’s fans.” Sure. But when accused of not helping Republicans win, these neutrals or near-neutrals could just reply: “You guys said we were dead wrong to doubt Trump’s electability, and you said we were irrelevant. Fine. Surely then you don’t need our help to win the election.”
Many other conservatives who oppose Trump in the primaries would, on the other hand, support him in the general election as enthusiastically as they are able, on the theory that their support will contribute in some small way to averting another Democratic presidency.