The Downfall of Conservatism, Inc. How Donald J. Trump made me rethink my Republican heroes.
November 4, 2019
September 11, 2001 changed a lot of things for a lot of people. I’m no exception.
Up until that monumental event I was only marginally political; I read the news, but hadn’t yet formed any sort of cohesive ideology. If anything, I was a fairly typical college student in the South, raised to respect tradition.
A decade and a half after the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and Flight 93, another monumental event would soon rattle my worldview and drastically alter my political trajectory. And then the planes hit the towers, and my obsession with politics began.
Watching such carnage must have made me instinctively hawkish. I instantly gravitated toward conservatives like Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh. Every morning began, without exception, with a visit to the Drudge Report.
Of course, it’s only healthy to seek dissenting opinions, and my liberal state-college education ensured I remained exposed to political arguments from both sides. But no matter the issue, I veered right time and time again.
And over time, I naturally came to admire many of the icons of modern conservatism. I read National Review and The Weekly Standard, the essays of Ayn Rand, and countless history books. My growing familiarity with the conservative “intelligentsia” exposed me to the political points view ostracized by overwhelmingly liberal professors during graduate school.
Satisfied with my ideological home, the Bill Kristols and Jonah Goldbergs of the world became my heroes—I would have gladly taken a bullet for Mitt Romney.
But a decade and a half after the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and Flight 93, another monumental event would soon rattle my worldview and drastically alter my political trajectory.
I’m speaking, of course, of the election of Donald Trump.
Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and Martin O’Malley at the Second Democratic Debate in 2016.
AT FIRST, SKEPTICISM
I wasn’t always a believer. I criticized his candidacy anywhere and everywhere: in bars, on Facebook, even some of my early columns. After all, he was openly and flagrantly mocking men like John McCain—men I had I long since come to admire.
I wasn’t a Democrat for a reason, and ours was not the party of corruption. If won the candidacy, my party had spoken, and that’s who I’d be casting my ballot for. Looking back, my logic made sense. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) sidelined Bernie Sanders’s campaign, corruptly crowning Hillary Clinton as their nominee. It was more than the fact that my loyalty lay with my heroes within the conservative establishment. It’s that this newcomer—who spent years as a Democrat—had no business stealing the spotlight from candidates who I thought stood a chance to win against the dynastic power of Hillary Clinton.
As Donald J. Trump emerged as a viable contender for the Republican nomination, I realized a man I had, on principle, cultivated a loathing for might actually win and serve as the spokesperson for my principles on the national stage. I’ll be honest: the thought of it made me a little sick.
But I wasn’t a Democrat for a reason, and ours was not the party of corruption. If he won the candidacy, my party had spoken, and that’s who I’d be casting my ballot for.
Sadly, my establishment heroes saw things differently. They began doing their best to copy the tactics and lies of the DNC. Of course, they couldn’t do it officially or on behalf of the Republican Party, but they didn’t have to. The loyalties they had cultivated in Americans like me gave them enough power to sabotage Donald Trump’s campaign.
Or so they thought.
LOSING FAITH IN THE ESTABLISHMENT
The establishment conservative leadership began to openly lend their support to candidates like Evan McMullin, a clown with a penchant for retweeting far-left celebrities. Even worse, conservative stalwarts like Colin Powell pledged their support for Hillary Clinton.
Instead of accepting their defeat in humility and taking the opportunity to reflect on how they had failed their constituents, establishment conservatives, launched an all out insurgency. Hillary Clinton! I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
Meanwhile, here was Donald Trump, who was not only not a member of the Washington conservative elite, he thumbed his nose at them. His campaign was a functional criticism of establishment conservatives—the same conservatives who had spent the past two decades advocating for disastrous policies such as the Iraq War.
And as his popularity among everyday Americans rose, he began to dethrone these kingmakers, publicly mocking them over their powerlessness. Subscriptions to their newsletters and publications suffered—the Weekly Standard folded less than two years after Trump’s inauguration—as did the hold establishment conservatives had on their base.
Donald Trump would eventually win the presidency. And instead of accepting their defeat in humility and taking the opportunity to reflect on how they had failed their constituents, establishment conservatives launched an all-out insurgency.
Jennifer Rubin on Meet The Press.
DEMOCRAT OR REPUBLICAN—ELITES FLOCK TOGETHER
Suddenly, the icons of modern American conservatism sought refuge within the very elitist bubble they used to criticize.
The cowardice and desperation of my so-called heroes has been more than concerning—it’s been an utter betrayal. Unable to tolerate being associated with President Trump and popular nationalism, they fled institutions of conservative thought like Fox News. The Democratic media, all too happy to receive them, made room for them on countless cable news panels on opposition outlets such as CNN and MSNBC. Longtime enemies found armistice and unity in a common objective: subverting President Trump and the threat he posed to their continued relevance.
Of course, establishment conservatives had to make ideological compromises for the sake of their new alliances. Policies they once heralded, at least intellectually, became part of President Trump’s populist platform. Policing the border and cutting taxes became Trumpist—not conservative—policies, and symbolized authoritarian overreach.
Nobody was talking about the successes of President Trump’s presidency: from a gangbusters economy to judicial appointments to wiping out ISIS, Number 45 was getting the job done.
No, it was all Orange Man bad. And elites from both sides were happy to tell you just how bad he was.
It was this unholy union that promulgated what will no doubt be remembered as one of the most corrupt schemes in the history of American politics: the Russian collusion hoax.
Conservative writers that I once greatly admired—writers like Steve Hayes, John Podhoretz, and Jennifer Rubin—have been all too happy to flood the airwaves with endless conspiracy theories about so-called collusion between President Trump and Russian hackers.
The cowardice and desperation of my so-called heroes has been more than concerning—it’s been an utter betrayal.
THE ROT THAT WROUGHT THE COLLUSION HOAX
What had happened to my heroes?
I understand their objection to Trump’s style—three years ago, I myself was put off by it—but style is nothing when measured against substance. Here was a president advancing their agenda—our agenda—didn’t that mean something?
Establishment conservatives were tokens, allowing liberal elites to pretend they were objective when they were fully intent on transforming American society. At first, I attributed their open mutiny to pride. Pride is human, and prideful men often make for sore losers.
But now, after ample time to recover from their humiliation, the persistent whining from establishment conservatives has exposed a very ugly truth about our former “leaders.” The George Wills and Tom Nichols of the world were always more interested in self-promotion than advancing conservatism.
Before President Trump’s explosive entrance onto the political scene, mainstream conservatism was somewhat tolerated by gatekeepers in the media, academia, and the arts. My heroes were nuisances to America’s increasingly liberal institutions, sure, but no real threat to the progressively progressive status quo. Establishment conservatives were tokens, allowing liberal elites to pretend they were objective when they were fully intent on transforming American society.
But Donald J. Trump was a different animal altogether, one who refused to kowtow to the cultural norms of American political theater. His frank and straightforward style was intolerable to liberal puppet masters who had spent decades corralling Republicans and forcing them to play nice.
Establishment Republicans have built entire careers out of playing nice. And it shows.
The threat of banishment from cocktail parties and university lectures—over Donald Trump of all people—has been enough to force much of the right’s pundit class to toss aside their ideals to preserve mainstream acceptance.
Three years later, it’s this cadre of tamed conservatives who are lending their efforts to the left’s never-ending coup against the President.
The Democrats may have finally grown the spine necessary to begin acting on the impeachment they’ve threatened for months.
And their “conservative” accomplices have finally shed what remained of theirs.
No “conservative” in their right mind would cede one centimeter of power to the current Democratic Party. There are rumors that Romney is seeking to rally Senate Republicans on impeachment. And David French and company continue to lambaste President Trump’s every action—the guy can’t even brush his teeth without being accused of desecrating America’s most treasured norms and institutions.
It’s exhausting, and their motives are painfully obvious.
No “conservative” in their right mind would cede one centimeter of power to the current Democratic Party. There is simply no moral comparison between them and the President—they’ve made it perfectly clear they have no intention of being civil. Perhaps the most extreme political entity in the history of the country, today’s left is proudly socialist, openly hostile to the freedoms granted by the Constitution, devoid of any respect for the miracle of life, and an open threat to our safety and stability.
During my two-decades of political education and civic life, if I’ve learned anything it’s that principles—not personalities—should define your political identity.
If it takes a little coarse language and off-color jokes to secure the future of the Republic and stave off the threats posed by an increasingly radical American left—so be it.