Genuine and consistent conservatism is necessarily Never-Trump, or at the least, strongly Anti-Trump. Never for supporting his nomination, probably never for voting for his election, and never for considering him as a fellow conservative even if he does get elected. Definitely never for happily and proudly voting for him.
One of our commenters has said he might liquor-up in November the better to forget who he voted for, even though he knows it sure won’t be for Hillary. That’s about as far as a consistent genuine conservative can go. At present, my own resolve is to remain Never on the voting question, for the reasons laid out below.
Not everyone who has earned the right to be considered a genuine conservative agrees with those sorts of statements, of course. Especially today. But as we move forward to November and beyond, even if consistent genuine conservatives never let these sorts talk them into voting for or openly supporting him, they are going to have to think about how to handle their relationship with the various types of putative conservatives who are supporting him, or who will soon decide to. Most of these will become a key part of his constituency if he becomes President. Which as we can now see more clearly, he very well might become. If by some miracle a rules-obeying way to deny him the nomination at the convention emerges, I will be for it, but in all the argument that follows I assume that he will be the Republican nominee, and that he could win it all.
If genuine conservatism is destined to return to the small-minority and outsider role it had prior to Reagan’s rise, i.e., to the something like the role W.F. Buckley Jr.’s National Review conservatism had in the 50s through 70s, then more thinking about how to define, and yes, to enforce, its ideological boundaries is inevitably going to occur. This is not exactly my kind of thinking, but as it will occur, and as it will often be offered up by still-stuck-on-the-Reagan-model types who only tend to botch things, I feel obliged to sketch a few initial lines.
The distinctions we most urgently need at present, are ones concerning the various types of Trump supporters.
The main proposition of this essay, which will consist of several installments, is that there are four types of Trump supporters, and that genuine conservatives can only continue to remain in close political fellowship with the fourth type. Tactical alliances, whether between distinct groups within a party, or across parties, of course always occur, but at the core level, certain divisions of principle have to be insisted upon.
Here are the four types:
First, Trump-Like Trump Supporters.
Second, Blinded Trump Supporters
Third, Professionally-Corrupt Trump Supporters
Fourth, Make-the-Best-of-It Trump Supporters
It is only the fourth class of Trump Supporters that can be considered genuine conservatives, if inconsistent or “rhetorically problematic” ones with respect to the current crisis.
My description of the other three categories will have to wait for the next installment, but with respect to the fourth, I will sketch what I have mind by listing several sub-categories of it: 4a) those who are trying to articulate, without at all waiting for The Donald’s lead, a consistent political platform and philosophy of Trumpism, such as the writers at The Journal of American Greatness; 4b) the politicians who feel the call to offer to serve with Trump, not primarily for personal benefit, but for the “duty to prepare for the worst” reasons offered by James Ceaser and Oliver Ward in their must-read essay “Thinking the Unthinkable”; 4c) those, such as John Hinderaker or Victor Davis Hanson, making the far lesser of two evils argument about why, as regrettable as Trump’s primary victory may be, conservatives must support him now, due to the great damage Hillary will do compared to the small amount Trump will; finally, although I am less sure if it makes sense to place this sub-category here, there are 4d) the early-breakers for Trump who have been the most policy focused, such as Jeff Sessions—I’m unsure about this last sub-category because, as I will show, it often bleeds into that of the Blinded Supporters.
Before laying out my main idea here, and the main categories (I just noticed that Jonah Goldberg, in “Sorry, I Still Won’t Ever Vote for Trump,” has posted a similar, if more complex/rich list of categories!), I first need to indicate why I think genuine conservatism must be Never/Anti-Trump. That’s what the remainder of this installment will do. Mollie Hemmingway, of The Federalist, is correct that many Never-Trumpers do not pause enough to explain the basics of their case.
There are two basic objections to supporting Trump for president. The most basic one is that genuine conservatism has a floor for unethical behavior that it will not permit its candidates for republican office to sink beneath, and Donald Trump is well beneath that floor.
In an actual emergency situation, in which the choice was either Donald Trump, or someone strongly suspected to be aiming at despotism and having a good chance of achieving it, i.e, a Caesar, a Mussolini, or a Huey Long, genuine conservatism could easily justify supporting a well-beneath-the-floor man like Trump. But we have no evidence that Hillary aims at becoming a republic-overthrowing despot. Nor would she have a prayer of achieving such if she did so aim. Our republic is not in that kind of danger. Not at this time.
(It is a regrettable thing to have to say, but we likewise have no evidence that Donald Trump seeks to end republican government, or that he is a fascist. His example could, over a number of years, pave the way for real fascists/Putin-ists, which was the point I think Robert Kagan was trying, blunderingly, to make with his “this is how fascism comes to America” column this week. But Trump is not a fascist himself, nor are most any of his supporters.)
The second basic objection is that Trump on policy is both pretty non-conservative and wildly inconsistent/unreliable. The evidence for this is irrefutable, but as you’ve heard it already, I won’t go into it here.
Taken together, these two arguments require conservatives to ask themselves whether four years of Hillary along with whatever long-term damage to the nation came from them, would be worse than four of Trump, along with the same.
Now I might be able to vote for Trump if I felt it were clear that the latter evil were substantially lesser than the former. Substantially lesser—for little else could convince me that it was worth throwing aside the below-the-moral-floor rule. We have so few definite rules in politics. And there are so few times when a candidate’s contempt for ordinary decency, fairness, and self-control are so patent. In Trump’s case, either one must apply the rule, or strongly risk implying that one is neither bound by it, nor really any, ethical rules for backing political candidates. We would have to be fairly certain of evils nearly as serious as a good chance of democracy’s imminent destruction before we could justify making an exception to such a rule. In the case actually before us as I understand it, it would be an exception that swallows and kills the rule.
Donald Trump is a shameless man, and one who is trying, successfully, to sell the public as never before upon the idea that shamelessness is a kind of virtue. Of all the nasty things about him that have emerged, the one that stays with me most is that he cheats at golf and doesn’t care when his opponents learn about this. I suppose it sounds absurd that I have latched onto this fact, but I insist that if you really think about it, it is a very telling one.
Matt Labash, in his “Nine Tales of Trump at his Trumpiest” provides evidence from multiple sources, including from rock star Alice Cooper and sportswriter Rick Reilly, that Trump regularly cheats at the game. He then gives us this anecdote:
When Mark Mulvoy, then-managing editor of Sports Illustrated, played golf with Trump in the mid-’90s, the two were forced to take cover when a storm rolled in. After the rain subsided, Mulvoy returned to the green to see a ball that he didn’t remember 10 feet away from the pin. When he asked whose ball it was, Trump replied, “That’s me.”
“Give me a f—ing break,” Mulvoy told Trump. “You’ve been hacking away in the . . . weeds all day. You do not lie there.” According to Mulvoy’s recollection to the Post, Trump responded: “Ahh, the guys I play with cheat all the time. I have to cheat just to keep up with them.”
Trump, for his part, denied knowing who Mulvoy is, claimed never to have played with Alice Cooper, and of Reilly, he said, “I always thought he was a terrible writer. I absolutely killed him, and he wrote very inaccurately.”
Maybe. Or maybe cheating jibes with Trump’s worldview. As Trump told Timothy O’Brien in TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald: “If you don’t win, you can’t get away with it. And I win, I win. I always win. In the end, I always win, whether it’s in golf, whether it’s in tennis, whether it’s in life.”
However one might propose comparing the devious sins and character flaws of Hillary Clinton against those of Donald Trump, one key difference would be that Hillary Clinton plays the respectable hypocrisy game. Now there is a real code of basic political respectability, and various degrees by which one may hypocritically game it. We have never, at the presidential level, had a major-party candidate who just chucks aside the basic code. Who won’t, if he can’t live by the code, play the game of elementary hypocrisy. Until Trump.
Yes, one can game the code. That sort of game has been played by a goodly number of our politicians since the beginning of our republic, perhaps most masterfully by Jefferson, FDR, JFK, and Nixon (until he got caught). What is more, the possibility of it being played can never be removed from republican politics. Sincere respectability does exist, after all, and the most masterful gamers of it are precisely those who make it hardest to prove, whatever we might strongly sense, that they don’t believe in it. Hillary is very far from masterful, but she goes through the motions in a standard-enough way. She denies her crimes and her lies. (And maybe of some of them, she is innocent.) And unlike the careless way Obama indulges in so much mendacity that it allows underlings like Gruber and Rhodes to reveal that it is his everyday modus operandi, Clinton is able to keep things looking respectable-enough, in part, probably, by actually requiring a certain amount of real respectability from her minions. Nor does she try to rub the corrupt power of her “Crassus for a cause” political machine in our faces. So while a child or an adolescent who watches a Hillary Clinton speech would usually be bored to tears, there is little reason to fear damage to their moral education from such exposure.
Trump, by contrast, in a thousand ways tells us—and in a way a child can understand–that he cheats, he smears, he bullies, he lies, and that this is why he wins. This is what leadership is. This is what patriotism is.
A republic can take a certain amount of the lies and misbehavior hiding behind the respectable hypocrisy façade, but we do not know how long republican politics can survive the adoption of open and shameless roguery. I’m guessing it’s some number of years greater than four, sure. Perhaps a decade-or-two of politicians left and right imitating key aspects of Trump’s style is the number. But what can justify heading down this uncertain road?
A Hillary presidency is not the end of our republic, you know. A lot of options remain. If you still have Congress, kill the filibuster. Threaten impeachment, and go through with it even if the votes to convict aren’t there. Do it with Hillary, and, do it with her ministers. Ditto with defunding. Refuse to vote for any of her SCOTUS nominees, ever, unless she deals. That’s constitutional. Promise various retaliations under a future GOP prez, including Court-packing. Also constitutional. And if you lose Congress, look into the ways the states can fight back. Nor should mass boycotts, national strikes, massive civil resistance to agency rule-making a la Charles Murray’s plan outlined last year, etc., be ruled out. If citizens think the hour has grown late-enough to even support a Trump, they should be ready to pursue such options.
At the least, Trump’s election would stand as a shameful fact, and a permanently poisonous precedent. A watchword of our politics would become “(fill in the blank) is at least not as bad as Donald Trump!” Maybe some set of lesser-evil arguments from the Make-the-Best-of-It Trump supporters will eventually get myself and others like me to mark that spot black in November, but make no mistake, his election would constitute an indelible disgrace with long-lingering consequences.
A minor one among these, but serious enough, is that Trump as President would stand more exposed to the possibility of impeachment and conviction, given his not having a solid Congressional constituency, than any president since Andrew Johnson. Not that an impeachment of Trump would destroy our politics—depending on the crime or outrage in question it might be a sign of the resiliency of real citizenship–but it is the sort of thing that Americans of all ideological stripes would become obliged to think about more during his term. Sure, our politics has been in need of a shake-up, but it is far from clear that that kind of instability, which undeniably would be part of the Trump package, is of the needed kind.
But let us return to the simplest thing: is there a floor of roguery and shamelessness below which a person who aspires to the Presidency of the United States cannot be permitted to go? Answer that for us, Make-the-Best-of-It Trump-supporters.
I would vote for the creepy WWII-revisionist Pat Buchanan against Hillary Clinton, very unhappily, but with a categorically different disgust than that I would have in voting for Trump. I would similarly hold my nose and vote for Jeb, Huckabee, Christie, or Bloomberg (I’m not saying these reek equally!) against Clinton. For none of these men would violate the basic rule.
I would vote for Jeff Sessions for president, and be fairly happy about it. I’ve praised that man’s immigration stance here at pomoncon, calling his anti-Zuckerberg speech the best one of 2014. That is, give me a candidate who stands for Trump’s policy positions with clarity and a sense of firmness, but without Trump’s disqualifying open contempt of basic morality, and I’d be with you, Trumpers.
For example, I would definitely vote for a candidate of passable personal character who offered some intelligent, gradually implemented, and fair way of radically reducing the number of Muslim immigrants we admit. Would I want my representatives to support the Congressional bill necessary for that? Maybe, maybe not, the devil’s-in-the-details, but I’d be quite willing to run with the dominant public opinion on such a question, and given the alternative of Hillary it would be a no-brainer choice in terms of the presidential election.
But given that the candidate is Trump, and that I’m being asked to toss aside the fundamental and minimal rule due to calculated hopes that his presidency will be such a lesser evil than Hillary’s, I do not see the case for voting for him. Trump supporters are asking genuine conservatives to roll the dice on the chances that the man’s mad egotism (and I do mean mad), vindictiveness, bluff, and utter shamelessness will somehow not harm the nation in a major way domestically, nor lead to an unnecessary war. And on top of that, genuine conservatives are being asked to risk substantial harm to 2018, 2020, 2022, and 2024 Republican elective prospects across the board, or a post-2016 party split that will hand even more seats to Democrats.
I understand, type-four Trump supporters, that you’re good people in the political sense, and that you have a reasonable argument. And I appreciate that most of you largely avoid legitimating the vile or dogmatically idiotic insults that are par for the course with the rest of the Trumpers, and I call for you to do so even more clearly as we move forward. I just don’t see that your main argument works. You’ll need a much more convincing case that Hillary would be such a dramatically worse evil than Trump would be, and that the various scenarios for disaster under a Trump presidency are not plausible, or are worth risking. Making a case that Trump really has made such-and-such clear policy-promises and that he is quite likely to try to keep them would be part of this.
More soon. For now, go to the main page and see what Jonah says. He’s slightly more strictly-Never than I am, but only slightly.