There’s been a lot of talk about whether pro-Trump and anti-Trump conservatives will be able to get past their differences after the election to work together within the major institutions of the conservative movement, and on major issue of common concern. The tensions are high, some friendships have been deeply wounded if not severed, and it will certainly take skillful leadership, intense effort, and patience. As others have observed here and elsewhere, the current talk about various post-election scenarios is conducted in vague generalities, as if all those on the Trump Train — and all those watching with dismay as it speeds down the track towards catastrophe of one sort or another — share the same views and behave in the same ways. It’s a serious error. In my experience, many pro-Trump and anti-Trump conservatives are already treating each other with civility and looking ahead, while others are panicked and still others are sharpening their knives.
I have found it helpful to describe the relationship between Trump and his Republican, conservative, and libertarian (!) supporters as a series of stages. It’s artful, as you might expect from a master manipulator like Trump. It’s also diabolical. It’s Sith-worthy. Here’s how I have seen the four stages playing out, including among people I know:
• Stage One: “I loathe Donald Trump. He’s awful in very way. But I loathe Hillary Clinton even more. She represents a clear and present danger to the future of the country, particularly with regard to Supreme Court picks. I hate having to do this, but I’m going to close every sense organ I have and vote for a horrible Trump to stop an intolerable Clinton.” Shorter version: I’m voting against my enemy. Rating: Understandable.
• Stage Two: “I’m not crazy about Donald Trump. He’s mean and he’s in over his head. But, you know, the Democrats and the liberal media — but I repeat myself! — are really shameless. They pounce on every odd thing he says, and repeat every story even if it’s poorly sourced, while giving Hillary Clinton a pass on her decades of scandalous behavior. I don’t like having to do this, but I’m going to hold my nose and vote for Trump so the Left doesn’t get away with it.” Shorter version: I’m voting for the guy with the right enemies. Rating: Debatable.
• Stage Three: “Donald Trump certainly wasn’t my first choice. He’s not our best messenger and lacks experience. But the theme of his campaign — that Republicans and the conservative movement have gotten it wrong on trade, foreign policy, and other issues — is very important. We won’t win the presidency and restore our Republic without it. I’m not enthusiastic about having to do this, but I’m going to vote for Trump and hope he recruits and listens to smart conservative advisors.” Shorter version: I’m voting for the message, not the messenger. Rating: Deluded.
• Stage Four: “Donald Trump is a breath of fresh air. He has real executive experience, in fabulously successful business rather than grubby politics, and will finally put the interests of real Americans first, ahead of the interests of the globalist elites and others who aren’t really loyal to this country. Trump tells it like it is. And let’s be honest — if we don’t shut down the borders now, they’ll all get the vote and we’ll never win the election again. I’m proud to cast my vote for a real leader, Donald Trump.” Shorter version: I’m voting for the message and the messenger, because it’s my last chance. Rating: Delusional.
Some Trump supporters have managed to stop themselves at Stage One. Others have continued sliding down the slope, their feet furiously cycling like cartoon characters, and ended up in a bottomless pit of denial, fury, and conspiracy mongering. Right now, I am planning to renew my friendships with those at Stage One, have long talks with those at Stage Two, firmly but respectfully refute and defeat those at Stage Three, and shun (but pray for) those at Stage Four.