BY SAMUEL STEVENS
Marco Rubio, anointed of the Grand Old Party (GOP) establishment, dropped out of the Republican primary recently, stirring up the already hectic race. Ted Cruz and John Kasich trail behind Donald Trump in the polls.
This election, however, is not about Trump himself but what he represents to the wider conservative movement, represented in mainstream circles by the late William F. Buckley’s “National Review,” and later on talk radio pundits like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. Buckley’s mantra was that conservatism was standing athwart history and “yelling stop.”
For well over three decades, American conservatism has attempted to do just that, fighting on ‘culture war’ issues such as abortion and homosexual marriage. While the movement crusaded on moral issues, the leaders embarked on disastrous neoliberal economic policies and costly foreign wars.
The would-be rank and file of the movement appear to have realized their leaders no longer represent their interests or accomplish anything that translates to what they want. It was easy to distract the conservative movement on social issues under a stable economy.
Now, the consequences of the actual actions of the Bush-style neoconservative leadership of the movement have left voters in the dust.
When people feel as if they are no longer represented by social institutions, they lash out.
Examining the current conservative movement in this light, a populist Trump type leader becomes inevitable.
Movement conservatism stopped supporting its base and instead part of the Washington establishment it pretends to hate, when it has been part of that establishment since the Reagan administration.
Like any insular elite group, the movement’s leadership has grown completely out of touch with their followers. The GOP donor class made a terrible miscalculation when it pushed neoconservative favorites like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio to the forefront.
Whether or not you agree with their conclusions, a large portion of the Republican base feels backed into a corner politically. A great many of them are not “the rich” but working and middle class voters squeezed into unemployment or underemployment by free trade and immigration.
Evangelical Christian culture war issues simply do not sell in times of crisis like they did during periods of relative prosperity in the 1980s and 1990s. Whatever you might think of Trump, his entrance into national politics marks a huge change in the American right.
It is understandable that many neoconservative and “values” voters—the kind that listen to Glenn Beck’s radio show—balk at Trump. He is not one of them by any stretch.
What is not understandable is the backlash within the establishment right that tries to sabotage Trump, who at this stage represents the best chance for the Republicans to win the White House.
Rather than attack the strong horse in the race, conservatives would do well to focus on building a new coalition around Trump. The GOP was able to ride a wave of success from the Tea Party movement in 2010 and 2012.
A Trump victory can do the same.
When the “National Review” publishes its “Against Trump” issue and neoconservative Ben Shapiro pushes his “nevertrump” hashtag on Twitter, they are simply accepting that their “movement” will fade away.
The way forward for conservatism is to accept Trump and try to build a coalition around him. Barring that, the mainstream American right must accept their role as a token opposition party in the future.