Home/Daniel Larison/Movement Conservatism vs. Trump

Movement Conservatism vs. Trump

The same people that endorsed Romney for president in his first campaign are very concerned about the nomination of an opportunistic, unprincipled businessman:

If Trump were to become the president, the Republican nominee, or even a failed candidate with strong conservative support, what would that say about conservatives? The movement that ground down the Soviet Union and took the shine, at least temporarily, off socialism would have fallen in behind a huckster.

Some of the things in the anti-Trump editorial make sense as far as they go, but the people producing the editorial aren’t all that credible. Trump is a huckster, but Romney was just as much of a comprehensive fraud in both of his presidential campaigns and that never seemed to bother his admirers at National Review. They were among the first to encourage conservatives to accept Romney despite a record that would normally disqualify a candidate from the start. I suppose the difference is that Romney pretended to care about movement litmus tests while Trump has ignored them, but that suggests that the real problem with Trump is that he hasn’t courted the movement as Romney did. Like Trump, Romney seemed willing to say almost anything if it meant winning an election, and conservatives were extremely foolish to believe that he had become one of them. The pretense that Bush supporters care about reducing the size and power of government would be almost be amusing if none of us could remember the previous decade. NR‘s reliable support for almost all of George W. Bush’s disastrous policies already made clear how foolish movement conservatives can be, so how much more damage could a Trump nomination that they don’t support do to their reputation?

It’s also wrong to assume that there is a “broad conservative ideological consensus within the GOP” that is in danger of being “trashed.” There are clearly some policies favored by many party and movement elites that most rank-and-file Republicans and conservatives already reject. The success of “outsider” and insurgent candidates this year tells us that the current leadership of the GOP has badly neglected many of its supporters for a very long time, and that implies that there has been something seriously lacking in the GOP’s agenda. I don’t think Trump is going to remedy that, but railing against his opportunism isn’t going to fix it, either.

The most notable thing about the editorial and the attached symposium is that it is another piece of evidence that Trump will end up as the nominee. Movement conservatives often reject the presidential candidates that most Republican voters prefer in the primaries, and those candidates frequently tend to do well because they ignore movement orthodoxy and aren’t limited by it. That seems to be happening again this year.

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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