The Corner

Politics & Policy

Clinton, Trump, and Conservatives’ Two-Front War

In the likely event that Trump leaves Cleveland as the Republican nominee, the segment of his own party that will be opposing him, withholding support, or mumbling only a terse, perfunctory endorsement (“There, I said it”) will be conspicuous and interesting to media outlets eager to boost his Democratic opponent. Trump enthusiasts, joined by Republicans who may not have voted for him but encourage us all now to be good soldiers for the Grand Old Party, note that the Never Trump movement serves the interests of the Clinton campaign.

Each side has called the other “Vichy Republicans.” Conservatives who have joined the Never Trump camp think that Republican leaders who have come around to Trump are betraying their party. It was invaded and fell. You can either submit to the occupation, or you can resist it. Choose your side.

In the clamor over Trump and conservative Republicans, World War II analogies fairly abound. Sympathetic to conservatives who have made an agonizing decision to vote for Trump against Clinton, one blogger compared them to Ukrainians who in the 1940s supported German occupation as the only alternative to Russian occupation, which they were historically primed to dread. Add to that the dread specifically of Soviet Communism, and popular support for collaborating with the Axis powers — in Croatia, for example, where the Soviet Union also figured as a proxy for Serbia, the Croats’ nemesis — becomes understandable though, in hindsight, obviously regrettable.

The United States and Great Britain were hardly natural allies of Stalin, and yet few today would gainsay our decision to join the Soviet Union against the Axis powers, even though the gulag atrocities, the oppression of Eastern Europe, and the long cold war that followed were horrors that a Soviet defeat in World War II might have precluded.

Up to now, conservatives have been fighting a war largely on one front — on the left, against forces ranging from moderate Republicans to hard-left Democrats. The Trump candidacy opens up a new front, on the right. On one analysis, he only represents the ascendance of Republican moderates over Republican conservatives, but Lindsey Graham he’s not. (Graham is one of two Republican senators — the other is Ben Sasse — who have said they won’t support Trump.) Henry Olsen argues that the key ingredient of the Trump movement is voters’ fear for America’s national security. But their legitimate concern has bled into nationalism, a sentiment that has some hard policy implications that are antithetical to conservative values.

Yesterday Trump stressed to George Stephanopoulos that the Republican party was not “the conservative party.” Noted. Trump has run a European-style nationalist campaign within the GOP. The hostile takeover or, in the military metaphor, occupation of the Republican party demands that conservatives decide whether to acquiesce or resist. Trump shows little inclination to help them fight the Left on issues they think are important, and he promises to energize (to a large extent he has already done so) a corresponding nightmare on the right.

So the conservative case for striking a strategic, provisional alliance with Clinton in 2016 is plausible, though it’s dispiriting — for conservatives. Democrats are gleeful. Where is Churchill?

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