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Clinton and Movement Conservative Rackets

Bret Stephens isn’t bothered by the prospect of a Clinton victory:

The best hope for what’s left of a serious conservative movement in America is the election in November of a Democratic president, held in check by a Republican Congress. Conservatives can survive liberal administrations, especially those whose predictable failures lead to healthy restorations—think Carter, then Reagan. What isn’t survivable is a Republican president who is part Know Nothing, part Smoot-Hawley and part John Birch. The stain of a Trump administration would cripple the conservative cause for a generation.

It doesn’t really make sense that a Trump administration would “cripple the conservative cause for a generation.” I doubt very much that Trump is going to win, but if he did conservatives of all stripes could oppose and criticize his administration as vigorously as they want to. Conservatives would be under no obligation to work with, much less for, a Trump administration, and presumably quite a few would refuse to do so. After spending the last few months claiming to be something other than lockstep partisans, they could actually prove that they are.

I suppose one danger for die-hard anti-Trump Republicans is that Trump might win and then govern in a less-than-disastrous fashion, and that would make their warnings seem overdone in retrospect, but presumably Trump’s fiercest critics don’t expect that to happen. Some movement conservatives might be more worried that their rigid and ideological form of conservatism will lose its influence in a Trump-led GOP, but if they are losing influence it is because they backed so many costly and harmful policies in the past and often still cling to them today. Movement conservatives have done most of the work of crippling “the conservative cause” by supporting policies over at least the last fifteen years that were part Woodrow Wilson, part Great Society, and part Gilded Age with predictably terrible results.

Conservatives will “survive” regardless of the outcome of the general election, and a Trump win might force more of them to devise an alternative to the party’s currently bankrupt agenda. Apart from the likely policy and political defeats that will follow the more likely outcome of a Clinton win, a Democratic victory probably won’t be good for the quality of conservative thought overall. It will probably be a boon to movement conservative rackets that do their biggest business when Democrats control the White House. Those rackets are designed to manufacture outrage and obsess over non-existent and minor scandals while ignoring real and significant policy failures, and another Clinton administration is the answer to their cynical prayers. That is unfortunately what we are likely to be stuck with for at least the next four years.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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