Now that the Republican primary is essentially down to Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz, it’s time for conservatives to give some serious thought to the choice they now face. I believe it is fair to say that both Trump and Cruz are anti-Establishment candidates, and both have tapped into the anger of voters who are tired of the status quo and the GOP Establishment, but they are anti-Establishment in different and important ways.
Ted Cruz is anti-Establishment in style and by degree. The Establishment doesn’t like him because he does not go along to get along. They see him as inflexible and someone who doesn’t play by the supposedly understood rules of the game. They also feel his overt religiosity and strong embrace of social issues is a liability in the general election.
That said, Cruz does not challenge the fundamental reigning paradigm. Cruz is just more so or a more precise representation of the current paradigm, as is the movement “conservatism” that Cruz so scrupulously reflects. Within the paradigm Cruz is more conservative by degree, and the Establishment prefers centrists and moderates, but he does not directly challenge the paradigm.
The current paradigm is essentially a globalist, universalist left vs. a globalist, universalist “right.” This is why the substantive attacks against Trump by his conservative foes, those not based on his persona or behavior, so often invoke conservative “principles” and “values” and “ideals” and “ideas” and an abstract conception of the Constitution and focus on Trump’s lack of precise adherence to these. The National Review anti-Trump diatribe was a perfect example of this.
It is because what is called modern conservatism is globalist and universalistic in outlook, that its more ideological manifestations, much to the delight of the global elite, embrace free trade and relatively open borders and foreign meddling to spread these supposedly universal American values around the globe. If conservatism is about universal and abstract principles then they need not be contained by artificial geographic boundaries like national borders. This is why you’ll hear many movement conservative ideologues (an oxymoron really, but more on that below) speak of America as a proposition or idea nation. This informs their enthusiastic embrace of immigration. If America is an idea, rather than a specific place inhabited by a specific people mix with a specific and unique history, then it stands to reason that anyone from anywhere in the world can come here, embrace these values and become a typical American. (This may sometimes be true in the particular, but common sense suggests it won’t be true in the aggregate.)
Conservative universalism also explains the single-minded commitment of many movement conservatives to free-market economics and the reduction of people to mere economic units, the so-call economic man or homo economicus outlook, at the expense of culture and place.
Now at this point some might object that Ted Cruz has expressed opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and is opposed to open borders, so this characterization does not apply to him, and you would be partially correct, but Ted Cruz is not stupid and can read his base. At first he did support fast track and TPP until he realized that his support wasn’t playing well with his potential base. Then he switched sides. But the base’s opposition to free trade deals and open borders and the opposition of politicians who follow the base’s lead, represent essentially visceral unprincipled exceptions, to use the term of the late Lawrence Auster, to the universal ideals many say they believe. This is why so many conservatives will sing the praises of legal immigration and spout nation of immigrants boilerplate before voicing opposition to illegal immigration as if immigration is just a law and order issue. They dare not suggest that if you are interested in actually conserving your country perhaps it is not the best idea to import mass numbers of dissimilar peoples, legal or illegal, even though they understand this viscerally, because to do so is a borderline thought crime.
The global power elite are post-nationalists who want to decrease the importance of national borders to facilitate world commerce, and not coincidently, enrich themselves in the process. While Ted Cruz represents a challenge to this plan stylistically and on the specific issues of TPP and immigration, he does not challenge the fundamental universalist premise. In fact, his criticisms of Trump, and those of his supporters, often focus on Trump’s alleged lack of adherence to said universal conservative principles. This consistent repetition of the charge that Trump is not a “real” conservative because he doesn’t check off a precise list of policies which are supposedly based on these conservative principles, actually reinforces the reigning universalist paradigm. The Powers That Be are more than happy to have anti-Establishment conservatives squabbling with each other about who is and is not a real conservative based on adherence to abstractions because this conversation does not fundamentally challenge their power.
The problem with this universalistic approach for movement conservatives, however, is that conservatism, as Russell Kirk reminded us, is not an ideology and is not primarily about a check list of policies. It is more a disposition or a mindset than a holistic ideology. It is a desire to conserve something concrete and a skepticism toward change, especially rapid and transformative change. Conservatives desires to conserve a particular place and a particular people and a particular culture, not just a set of abstractions like liberty or freedom or small government. While conservatism is not idea free, it views these ideas as organic manifestations of a particular place, people and culture to also be conserved, not as universals to be spread to the benighted.
In addition to fundamentally getting conservatism wrong, much of what passes for modern movement conservatism is not actually conservative, in the classical sense, at all. A lot of basic modern conservative rhetoric and argumentation is more closely a variation of classical liberalism, something many cosmopolitan cons will happily admit.
Enter Donald Trump. Donald Trump is not a perfect candidate, and he is not the modern incarnation of Russell Kirk. Nor is there much indication that he has thought long and hard philosophically along the lines discussed above, although his debate answer that conservatism to him is about conserving something, an answer that got him mocked by the globocons, was encouraging. (Was he coached? Maybe he has been reading me.) What Donald Trump is is a patriotic American who clearly loves his country and wants to see it prosper. His policies are instinctive and results based (better deals), not ideologically and principle based.
The dichotomous thinkers who insist on seeing everything in terms of tidy Red and Blue boxes have had trouble figuring Trump out. If he’s not a by the book movement con then he must be a liberal Democrat, because everyone knows, there are only two options. For those unbound by such simplistic formulations, however, the internal consistency of Trumpism is easy to see. On trade, on immigration and on foreign policy (unfortunately to a lesser degree), Trump is a nationalist who is guided by what he believes is best for his country, not conforming to an abstract set of principles about how things ought to be.
This is why Trump, whatever you may think of his position on this or that policy, represents a fundamental challenge to the current ruling paradigm of globalist, universalist left vs. globalist, universalist right, that Ted Cruz does not. Trump makes the contest between globalist, universalist left and right vs. American nationalism, and the absolute proof of this is in the nature of the opposition, both left and right, that has lined up against him. Ted Cruz makes it about more or less of the current dynamic.
Despite Trump’s apparent lack of philosophical grounding, the suite of policies he supports – restricting immigration, rejecting globalist trade deals, and a less idealistic foreign policy – are more conservative in effect and in the most basic sense of the word, than is any amount of babbling about eminent domain, enterprise zones and capital gains tax cuts by self-appointed movement conservative watchdogs.
I think the constant refrain, funded by millions of Establishment dollars, that Trump is not a by the books movement conservative has probably hurt him on the margins. The reason it has not been the kill shot that the movement con eggheads thought it would be, however, is because it is an argument that appeals only to a specific type of person who exists in limited number. It works with people who self-identify as conservatives and who have been catechized on the “three-legs” of movement conservatism by Fox News, talk radio, the conservative webosphere, etc. But there exists a large segment of Middle America that is viscerally Red and routinely votes Republican because they realize the modern Democrat Party hates them and sees them as the problem, but who never bought the whole Republican ideological agenda and in some ways are actually hostile to it (free trade, entitlement reform, tax cuts for the rich, etc.) These folks make up a substantial portion of Trump’s supporters because he articulates an instinctual “common sense” agenda that they believe will actually improve their prospects, rather than an ideological treatise tailored to the desires of the donor class.
If you are an anti-Establishment conservative who is actually interested in conserving something concrete, like your country and your fellow countrymen, rather than a bunch of abstractions, then the choice is clear. Maybe, just maybe, Trump can Make America Great Again. Cruz continues us down the road of making America, as a discrete nation state, irrelevant.