Home/Rod Dreher/Trump: Conservatism’s Reckoning With Nemesis

Trump: Conservatism’s Reckoning With Nemesis

You see Ross Douthat’s Peter Suderman’s piece on why the GOP is in such disarray? Excerpt:

Representative Thomas Massie, Republican of Kentucky, one of the party’s most libertarian members, recently said that when he realized that primary voters backed him and his fellow libertarians Rand Paul and Ron Paul, it wasn’t for their ideas. Instead, he said, “they were voting for the craziest son of a bitch in the race — and Donald Trump won best in class.”

Republican voters weren’t voting for any policy outcome. They were voting for chaos. And that, more than anything, is what the party has come to stand for.

A more conventional Republican president might have smoothed over some of these intraparty conflicts, and almost certainly would have managed passing legislation with more skill. But the essential divisions would still have existed.

For years before Mr. Trump was elected, Republicans lacked a consensus plan to replace Obamacare, and their tax reform plans were vague. Republicans blew up the deficit under Mr. Bush before complaining about it under Mr. Obama, and the party has fought bitter internal battles over immigration for decades.

Republican voters, meanwhile, were attracted to shallow political entertainers and obviously unqualified candidates long before Mr. Trump threw his hat in the ring.

Mr. Trump didn’t cause any of this. He just took advantage of it. He is the most successful huckster of the bunch.

This is an important point. As I say inThe Benedict Option, Donald Trump is not really the problem; he is only the most acute symptom of a problem that is destroying the GOP and organized conservatism.

Conservative Jay Cost let loose with a tweetstorm jeremiad in which he explains why he hates everybody in politics right now. I’m not going to post the whole thing here, so I strongly advise you read it all at this link. Excerpts:


He thinks Congress is corrupt, but also the people:




“I don’t think the GOP is fit to govern,” Cost says. This is why he prefers divided government, even as he rejects the Democrats’ increasingly leftward moves, especially towards identity politics. More:


If the Republicans can forestall a progressive takeover of the judiciary, Cost counts that as a win. But make no mistake, he says, the GOP is a rolling disaster, and there will be a severe price to pay:


Here’s the entire tweetstorm, if you’re interested.

Cost’s rant deeply resonates with me. The GOP establishment brought Trump upon itself, no question, by ignoring the growing concerns of its base to serve the interests of the donor class. This TAC review of Charlie Sykes’s new book explores how the right-wing media ginned up and exploited the kind of reckless passions that resulted in Trump. And in this, they were aided and abetted by a GOP establishment that benefited from it. (I invite you to read John Derbyshire’s prescient 2009 TAC essay in which he explores how conservative talk radio is destroying conservatism.)

The latest idiotic Trump controversy — our lying president’s vulgar, self-serving campaign against Gold Star families — is a perfect example of what Trumpism is costing conservatism. There was no reason for this at all. Despite his denials, it’s quite credible to believe that Trump said something heartless to the widow of a US soldier killed in Niger. To be fair, we’ve all had the experience of offering condolences to grieving family members. It’s hard to know what to say, and to say the right thing. But Trump is a 70 year old man. He should have learned this by now. It’s not that hard for a Commander in Chief to offer consoling words to a war widow, is it? Anyway, Trump screwed it up, and then could not bring himself to offer an apology. Instead, he told more lies, and even disgracefully dragged the dead body of the son of his chief of staff, Gen. John Kelly, into the dispute.

I have no doubt that Democrats are trying to capitalize on this politically, but you know what? Trump did this to himself. He’s doing it to all conservatives. And that’s just this week. What’s coming next week? Who knows?

This, from Naval War College professor Tom Nichols, is unrebuttable:


This cannot go on. This will go on, as long as Trump is in office. Will Reno, a Northwestern University scholar who travels abroad researching international conflicts confirmed to me yesterday an anecdote an NPR journalist friend passed on to me. I’ll tell the story here, because I have Prof. Reno’s permission, though I will later be publishing a fuller interview that he’s giving me. Reno said that in his international traveling, he keeps hearing from military and civilian officials in other countries an immense concern for the diminishment of US global power and prestige under Trump. The comment a senior African diplomat made to him was stark.

After expressing the customary anxiety over America’s place in the world under Trump, the diplomat called Trump “America’s Gorbachev.” Reno was confused by this, because Gorbachev is a world-historical figure who opened up the Soviet Union. He asked the diplomat to explain.

Gorbachev burned away the USSR’s power on the world stage, the diplomat said. Trump is doing the same thing to America’s power.

He is certainly doing this to the Republican Party’s power, at least at a national level (it seems fine, for now, in the states). I heard from a very, very conservative Evangelical friend the other day who said that he’s so exhausted and disgusted by Trump’s performance in office that he would consider voting for a Democrat (depending on who it is) for president in 2020 if Trump is on the ballot. You don’t know this guy, but trust me, for someone who cares about social issues, especially religious liberty, as much as he does to reach that conclusion reveals a degree of despair that I’ve not seen among his kind.

I share that sentiment. Regular readers know that I haven’t voted for a major party candidate in a presidential election since 2004. Had I not been in a deep red state in 2016, I would have been sorely tempted to vote for Trump for religious liberty reasons, given how hostile the Democratic Party is to social and religious conservatives. But now, nine months into the Trump presidency, it looks like the best we can hope for is to get good judges and to contain the damage to the nation. The damage to the Republican Party — well, that’s a hopeless situation.

Rich Lowry has a good piece in Politico, saying that Trump’s biggest problem is that he has no idea how to govern, or any clear desire for doing so. Excerpt:

Trump’s approach keeps everyone guessing and keeps him from getting pinned down, but it is no way to lead a party. This is why Trump’s strong suit is things he can do on his own, namely culture-war battles, fights with the news media and other critics, and executive actions. These don’t involve many moving parts and don’t require much constancy; in fact, Trump’s tendency to fix a target for attack and then move on when he’s bored or it no longer serves his purposes, often works in his favor in his feuds.

You can’t count on him. Having no principles except serving his own celebrity, Trump is inconstant. Think about it, conservatives: we have a Republican House, a Republican Senate, and a Republican president, but the only thing of substance that they’ve been able to do is to confirm judges.

As Jay Cost says, that’s not nothing, and we have to be grateful for wins where we get them. But good grief, what a massive wasted opportunity, one that, thanks to Trump’s catastrophic governance and big fat mouth, we aren’t likely to get again for a very, very long time.

But let’s not lose the truth here: if the Republican Party establishment and members of Congress suffer long-term pain from Trump and his legacy, they will not be able to scapegoat him. He is their own creation, as well as the creation of the conservative movement. We can only thank the gods that the Democrats are in such disarray right now. That won’t last forever. But the god in whose hands the fate of American conservatism rests is Nemesis. 

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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