The conservative movement has collapsed and is in ruins. Its vehicle for political expression, the Republican Party, is now in the hands of an authoritarian nationalist who has never read the Constitution and does not believe in free expression, free trade or the separation of powers. Its central vehicle for expression in the news media is in disarray as Fox News becomes embroiled in scandal. Even its defenders on talk radio and in the blogosphere are severely at odds as they are forced to choose whether to defend Trump as the lesser of two evils or to stand fast with the founding fathers against both terrible sides.
The question is not whom you vote for. In an election with no good choices, reasonable people may morally disagree. The question — for me, at least — is how do we rebuild the pro-Constitution conservative brand into a political force?
Here are some first thoughts.
- There is no substitute for victory. A political philosophy should be an outgrowth of moral values but it is not a moral value in itself. Its purpose is not to be good; its purpose is to be as good as it can be and still win power. A Christian may count it a victory when he is devoured by lions for his faith, but a conservative who is repeatedly devoured by the opposition in elections is just a self-satisfied schmuck. I am completely opposed to those — like Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam — who essentially argue that conservatives must win by becoming watered-down liberals. But clearly, the methods by which we have been selling our philosophy to the voters have not just failed but failed utterly, and we should rethink them.
- Win what minority types we can with the truth. The opposition likes to point out that too many conservatives are white men. They’re right — but only because blacks and women have been successfully sold a destructive bill of goods in leftist racialism and feminism. The facts are: black people are not oppressed by the police, women are not underpaid for the same work, white privilege is a destructive and racist myth, and true freedom means people you don’t like are going to say things you disagree with in ways you find offensive. These are hard sayings but they need to be said, and they don’t need to be said by conservatives to other conservatives, they need to be said by conservatives to blacks, women and sexual off-beats of all stripes. The Democrats have co-opted these people with destructive lies that make their lives worse. We can’t win them back by jumping on that bandwagon. We need to proudly, unapologetically (and politely) tell it like it is — to them, in their neighborhoods and organizations. We won’t win a lot of them. Not at first. But facts have a way of getting through over time — if you speak them courageously without being a jackass about it.
- Fight the culture wars in the culture. The culture wars are problematical because too often conservatives come across as anti-freedom or bigoted. That makes victory tough. I feel passionately about some cultural issues and indifferent to others, but I believe all of them should be fought on a cultural and informational level rather than a political one. For instance, I believe that abortion is the taking of a human life and that government therefore has a right to forbid it. But just speaking bluntly and honestly, I don’t think I can win that fight in the political arena right now. Happily, the truth may do what politics cannot. The truth is on my side and the more the truth gets out about what abortion looks like, how it’s done, and who the people who support it are, the more the public will know that it is unacceptable. Then we can win politically. As for sex issues, I confess I care not at all about other people’s sexuality (I’m so deeply immersed in my own), but I do care very deeply about religious liberty and the freedom not to participate in what you abhor. That’s a fight we can win and we should argue it everywhere as a freedom issue.
- Some class occasionally would be nice. Conservatives have been all but banned from universities, the news media and show business. In response, we formed our own media in blogs, talk radio and Fox. Those are great venues for informing our own, but we could use some outreach to open-minded Democrats. I’ve wasted too much breath trying to convince conservatives that art is good and can change the world over time. They just won’t believe me. But could we maybe agree that screaming at people and calling them evil and talking like a belligerent loudmouth know-it-all is not always the best way to bring them over to your side? No, huh. Well, it was just a thought.
It very much looks to me right now as if Trump is going to lose this election on pure incompetence and mean spirit. That might actually make it easier for conservatives to regroup in the ruins of the Republican Party. If he wins, we may need a new party of our own. But whichever way things go, I think we need to open a discussion about how conservatives can not only remain conservative but also win elections in modern America.