Klavan On The Culture

What's a Conservative to Do?

(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

“As Donald Trump Rolls Up Victories, the G.O.P. Split Widens to a Chasm,” read the headline on the post-Super Tuesday analysis in the New York Times, a former newspaper. The article was typical of the Times‘ modern work: a house of facts with a family of lies living inside. The gloating lede — “Democrats are falling in line. Republicans are falling apart” — was fair enough. It was even hard to argue with the accompanying front-page photo. It nastily captured Trump wearing a particularly supercilious smirk — and okay, fine; though I doubt any equally representative photos of a cackling, screeching Hillary Clinton have made the paper on any page.

But throughout the rest of the piece was scattered the usual Timestuff: dishonest leftist assertions casually tossed off as fact. The Republicans’ unwillingness to hold hearings on a replacement for Justice Scalia is a tactical error because it has energized the leftist base. (Ha.) The Obama economy is improving and unemployment is low. (That’s not what the Democrat candidates say.) Obama has a “nearly 50 percent” approval rating. (It’s closer to 46 percent, but more importantly he has plunged the nation into divisive rancor and racial violence we haven’t seen in years.)

But the worst was this:

Heather Cox Richardson, a Boston College professor and the author of a new history of the Republican Party, predicts a violent rupture that cleaves the party in two: a hard-line conservatism, as embodied by Pat Buchanan, Newt Gingrich and Mr. Trump, and an old-fashioned strain of moderate Republicanism that recalls Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and Nelson Rockefeller.

If Professor Richardson thinks Donald Trump is a hard-line conservative, she should no more be writing about Republicans than I should be writing about quantum mechanics. Because she doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

What is splitting the Republican Party in two is the very fact that Trump is not a conservative. He favors government health care. He favors disastrous protectionism. He favors less freedom of speech in the form of new libel laws making it easier for him to sue those who criticize him. He sends friendly signals to the haters of blacks and Jews. Plus he’s a foul-mouthed thug who treats women like dirt — which may be fine for the Clintons, but is unacceptable behavior in any conservative circle I’ve ever been in.

Donald Trump has no discernible principles or plans other than his own advancement. He is a proto-fascist strong man, selling the American people on himself. What his rise in the G.O.P. has done is threaten to separate conservatives of principle — politicians like Ted Cruz and Paul Ryan, commentators like Rush Limbaugh, Jonah Goldberg and Mark Levin — from a powerful populist force within the one political party that has been till now conservatives’ flawed but necessary vehicle.

I mention both Cruz and Ryan in the same sentence on purpose. I know that Cruzians despise Ryan as an untrustworthy RINO, and that Ryanists disdain Cruz as a selfish and dishonest radical. But the fact is if Trump has done conservatives no other service, he has revealed that these good men have more in common than either camp has been willing to admit. The differences between them amount to something like a family quarrel. The differences between conservatives and Trump — that’s the stuff of civil war.

What are conservatives to do then if Trump becomes the nominee of the Republican Party? How are they to express themselves politically without becoming irrelevant?

I hear plenty of Republican tweeters and even commentators saying: “Chill out.” “Get on board the Trump train or get run over!” “You can’t argue with success.” For the record, my responses are “No,” “Kiss my ass,” and “You bet I can,” in that order.

More thoughtful G.O.P. voices argue that risking a bad Supreme Court nominee from Trump is better than guaranteeing a bad one from Hillary. And also: a Trump beholden to conservative voters is better than a Hillary at odds with them.

But it won’t wash. American politics is a binary game, I know. Normally, I’m for the Buckley rule: go for the most conservative candidate you can get elected. But a dishonest big-government bully with a tendency to urge his crowds to violence exists nowhere on the spectrum of conservatism as I understand it.

If it’s Hillary versus Trump, a plague on both parties’ houses. American conservatism is the defender of constitutional law, restricted government and individual liberty. Those principles are what I’ll stand on, against any opponent on either side. And bloody well alone if I have to.

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