Conservatism on the Ropes?

Donald Trump’s claiming of the Republican nomination, along with fellow New Yorker Bernie Sanders’ popular and effective campaign for the Democrat one (with Hillary Clinton the alternative) are heavy blows to the conservative movement in the United States. As matters now stand, the next president will certainly not be a conservative or anything even close. If this election process so far is an accurate reflection of the American body politic, actual conservatives make up a rather small minority of the minority Republican Party, and have a long road ahead if ever a conservative standard bearer is to gain the presidency. Unless Trump radically remakes his message and sticks to it, the conservative movement is looking at some down time in the wilderness. Its rally, if it is to come, looks to be far off and may have to be the result of even more disastrous liberal policies than we’ve seen in the last eight years.

Trump and Sanders may both technically be outsiders to the established cliques that run the federal government, but they are hardly ideological outsiders in terms of the policies those elites have fostered and used to feather their own nests for generations. Neither is against big government, nor advocates a nonactivist role for federal officialdom. Yes, they are both superficially anathema to Georgetown cocktail circuit set as brash, loudmouthed New Yorkers, but that is about it. Official Washington can now rest assured that regardless of whether the next president is named Trump, Clinton, or Sanders, their sinecures will remain secure.

A Clinton presidency would be very much business as usual in Washington, so much so that it would be almost impossible to distinguish from Obama’s. But Trump or Sanders would likely only offer a twist. Clinton would maintain and expand government and so would Trump or Sanders. It is only in the question of who benefits from government largesse that Trump and Sanders differ from Clinton, or from each other.

A notable common feature of Trump and Sanders is not only their outward New Yorker mannerisms but how they intend to reorient the redistributive state. Trump’s and Sander’s core constituencies are middle-class whites, who are angry not at the size of government but where it centers its sympathies and largesse. Mainstream Democrats like Obama and Clinton focus their attention and government resources on various favored minority groups, public worker unions, and preferred politically correct industries and financiers. This longstanding and intentionally divisive policy is intended to enrich the elites and lock up the votes and support of those core constituencies through dependence on the federal money, programs and publicly expressed sympathies. In this, the white working middle class is largely ignored.

Sander’s liberal supporters would not openly gainsay the interests of minorities or union labor (public or otherwise) but want an equal share for themselves, both fiscally and emotionally. Sanders provides this at least with empty promises. His people don’t want welfare, they want free college. They want single-payer healthcare, not so much that it will directly benefit them, but because it will make them feel good about themselves, like Danes and Norwegians. A creepy aspect of Sanders’ appeal is that his support almost all white, he hails from the whitest state in the union, and he and his supporters idolize the whitest nations on earth. If Sanders were a Republican he and his supporters would be lambasted as racists, but since they are nominal Democrats and “socialists” they are not. They are also not depicted as angry, but they are.

Trump’s supporters are depicted as angry and generally don’t dispute the characterization. But like Sanders’ supporters they mostly are not angry that we have a bloated, increasingly authoritarian government, but that it does not focus enough of its attention and resources on them. Trump promises to cut taxes, which is good and presumably will help them directly. But they also otherwise support Trump’s calls for a massively expensive wall on our southern border, increased spending for a military that he doesn’t much intend to use, and government-imposed trade regulations which will redound to them in shortages and inflated prices. Neither do they seem to care that, as with Sanders’ programs, there is no money to pay for them. Just as Sanders’ supporters want single-payer healthcare to feel good about themselves, Trump supporters appear to want these latter programs for the same reason, since it is not clear how they will actually make a direct improvement to their lives or financial stability.

Sadly, eight years of disastrous Democrat statist programs and ideas have only led most Americans into squabbling over entitlement scraps and emotional validation rather than trying to change the policies that created the problems in the first place. And of course, that is entirely what the leftist project has been about for the past several generations.

Taken with the Democrat’s already enormous support among their traditional interest groups, the large numbers of Americans who support either Sanders or Trump creates a substantial majority that evidently supports continued massive government spending and intervention in their lives. This suggests that conservatism is something that most Americans care little about. Combined with the interests of entrenched elites of both parties, it is a sad reckoning. That those elites on the Republican, nominally conservative side, clearly preferred Trump to Ted Cruz is about all the proof one needs that they see things the same way.

As an actual political vessel Trump is largely empty, so it is theoretically possible that he could change course and tack toward a more consistent and conservative platform. That requires some degree of wishful thinking and hope on the part of conservative partisans that Trump is interested, and that he is willing to distance himself from his core constituency. In fact, it is more likely that having claimed the Republican nomination in spite of conservative opposition he will move left, in order to better appeal to independents and potential crossover Democrats.

With Trump’s nomination, and Sanders pushing the Democrats even further into a statist authoritarian model, this is a tough time for conservatives. If Clinton or Sanders is elected four (or eight) more years of leftist misery might finally turn voters around sufficiently to consider a true conservative candidate in the next round. This appears to be the basic idea motivating the Never Trump folks.  Should Trump prevail, rather than rending their garments, conservatives ought to work to move Trump right, but will have to balance those efforts against the risk that an unsuccessful Trump presidency will be blamed on them, should voters misconstrue Trump with an actual conservative Republican, which is mostly the case now.

The real question though, in the wake of Obama’s election, reelection, and the popular statist policies of all the leading presidential candidates, is whether a largely zoned out and alternatively complacent and emotional American public will ever again be ready for the rigors of individual responsibility and self-rule. They seem to be saying no. 

Donald Trump’s claiming of the Republican nomination, along with fellow New Yorker Bernie Sanders’ popular and effective campaign for the Democrat one (with Hillary Clinton the alternative) are heavy blows to the conservative movement in the United States. As matters now stand, the next president will certainly not be a conservative or anything even close. If this election process so far is an accurate reflection of the American body politic, actual conservatives make up a rather small minority of the minority Republican Party, and have a long road ahead if ever a conservative standard bearer is to gain the presidency. Unless Trump radically remakes his message and sticks to it, the conservative movement is looking at some down time in the wilderness. Its rally, if it is to come, looks to be far off and may have to be the result of even more disastrous liberal policies than we’ve seen in the last eight years.

Trump and Sanders may both technically be outsiders to the established cliques that run the federal government, but they are hardly ideological outsiders in terms of the policies those elites have fostered and used to feather their own nests for generations. Neither is against big government, nor advocates a nonactivist role for federal officialdom. Yes, they are both superficially anathema to Georgetown cocktail circuit set as brash, loudmouthed New Yorkers, but that is about it. Official Washington can now rest assured that regardless of whether the next president is named Trump, Clinton, or Sanders, their sinecures will remain secure.

A Clinton presidency would be very much business as usual in Washington, so much so that it would be almost impossible to distinguish from Obama’s. But Trump or Sanders would likely only offer a twist. Clinton would maintain and expand government and so would Trump or Sanders. It is only in the question of who benefits from government largesse that Trump and Sanders differ from Clinton, or from each other.

A notable common feature of Trump and Sanders is not only their outward New Yorker mannerisms but how they intend to reorient the redistributive state. Trump’s and Sander’s core constituencies are middle-class whites, who are angry not at the size of government but where it centers its sympathies and largesse. Mainstream Democrats like Obama and Clinton focus their attention and government resources on various favored minority groups, public worker unions, and preferred politically correct industries and financiers. This longstanding and intentionally divisive policy is intended to enrich the elites and lock up the votes and support of those core constituencies through dependence on the federal money, programs and publicly expressed sympathies. In this, the white working middle class is largely ignored.

Sander’s liberal supporters would not openly gainsay the interests of minorities or union labor (public or otherwise) but want an equal share for themselves, both fiscally and emotionally. Sanders provides this at least with empty promises. His people don’t want welfare, they want free college. They want single-payer healthcare, not so much that it will directly benefit them, but because it will make them feel good about themselves, like Danes and Norwegians. A creepy aspect of Sanders’ appeal is that his support almost all white, he hails from the whitest state in the union, and he and his supporters idolize the whitest nations on earth. If Sanders were a Republican he and his supporters would be lambasted as racists, but since they are nominal Democrats and “socialists” they are not. They are also not depicted as angry, but they are.

Trump’s supporters are depicted as angry and generally don’t dispute the characterization. But like Sanders’ supporters they mostly are not angry that we have a bloated, increasingly authoritarian government, but that it does not focus enough of its attention and resources on them. Trump promises to cut taxes, which is good and presumably will help them directly. But they also otherwise support Trump’s calls for a massively expensive wall on our southern border, increased spending for a military that he doesn’t much intend to use, and government-imposed trade regulations which will redound to them in shortages and inflated prices. Neither do they seem to care that, as with Sanders’ programs, there is no money to pay for them. Just as Sanders’ supporters want single-payer healthcare to feel good about themselves, Trump supporters appear to want these latter programs for the same reason, since it is not clear how they will actually make a direct improvement to their lives or financial stability.

Sadly, eight years of disastrous Democrat statist programs and ideas have only led most Americans into squabbling over entitlement scraps and emotional validation rather than trying to change the policies that created the problems in the first place. And of course, that is entirely what the leftist project has been about for the past several generations.

Taken with the Democrat’s already enormous support among their traditional interest groups, the large numbers of Americans who support either Sanders or Trump creates a substantial majority that evidently supports continued massive government spending and intervention in their lives. This suggests that conservatism is something that most Americans care little about. Combined with the interests of entrenched elites of both parties, it is a sad reckoning. That those elites on the Republican, nominally conservative side, clearly preferred Trump to Ted Cruz is about all the proof one needs that they see things the same way.

As an actual political vessel Trump is largely empty, so it is theoretically possible that he could change course and tack toward a more consistent and conservative platform. That requires some degree of wishful thinking and hope on the part of conservative partisans that Trump is interested, and that he is willing to distance himself from his core constituency. In fact, it is more likely that having claimed the Republican nomination in spite of conservative opposition he will move left, in order to better appeal to independents and potential crossover Democrats.

With Trump’s nomination, and Sanders pushing the Democrats even further into a statist authoritarian model, this is a tough time for conservatives. If Clinton or Sanders is elected four (or eight) more years of leftist misery might finally turn voters around sufficiently to consider a true conservative candidate in the next round. This appears to be the basic idea motivating the Never Trump folks.  Should Trump prevail, rather than rending their garments, conservatives ought to work to move Trump right, but will have to balance those efforts against the risk that an unsuccessful Trump presidency will be blamed on them, should voters misconstrue Trump with an actual conservative Republican, which is mostly the case now.

The real question though, in the wake of Obama’s election, reelection, and the popular statist policies of all the leading presidential candidates, is whether a largely zoned out and alternatively complacent and emotional American public will ever again be ready for the rigors of individual responsibility and self-rule. They seem to be saying no.