NeverTrump's False Narrative

This video by Steve Deace, who I believe to be one of the sincere but misguided leaders of the NeverTrump effort, is a perfect illustration of the insular nature of much of official conservatism. Deace concedes that the Establishment does not like Trump, but sees the Establishment’s unwillingness to join the NeverTrump crusade as an opportunistic effort to join forces with a supposedly anti-conservative Trump and attempt to crush authentic conservatism. This is the type of explanation that only a committed ideologue who can admit no violation of orthodoxy could possibly believe. For inside the box movement conservative true believers, all facts must be pounded into a narrative conforming explanation, lest they be forced to concede that maybe the narrative is wrong.

I have made the following point before, but it deserves to be restated here. The GOP Establishment doesn't like Trump, but many have come to terms with his nomination because they realize it is a fait accompli, and they are trying to make the best of it. Establishment folks are generally Establishment because they are not ideologues. They are practical. It is actually revealing that the people most heavily invested in anti-Trumpism are movement conservative/neoconservative ideologues and Conservative Inc. stakeholders who do not want to give up their fiefdom. They are alarmed by Trump and the magnitude of his support because his more nationalist and populist message breaks from the approved "conservative" script. Hence, they see Trump and Trumpism as a grave threat to their narrative in a way that a moderate like Mitt Romney wasn’t. Steve Deace represents this element well.

The problem with Deace's spin is that it is entirely self-serving and difficult if not impossible to falsify. It reinforces the narrative he wants reinforced. Conservative ideologues (an oxymoron in reality) are like their fellow communist and libertarian ideologues. If you talk to a committed communist, he’ll tell you real Communism has never failed because it has never been tried. Likewise, libertarians will tell you full-fledged libertarianism has never failed because it has never really been tried. For inhabitants of the movement conservative bubble, their type of conservatism is never really rejected at the ballot box because it is always thwarted by the Establishment and/or insufficiently embraced and articulated by the candidate.

Unfortunately for Deace and company’s explanation, Trump does not represent some radical repudiation of conservatism when properly understood and considered. Trump has managed to energize some previously disaffected voters and he has attracted some blue collar Democrats, but the bulk of his voters are people who generally vote Republican, many of whom consider themselves quite conservative. Most of Trump’s enthusiastic supporters are not Johnny-come-latelies who were disinterested before, although there are some of those. Many are people who have long been active in conservative politics and causes and reflexively vote Republican.

What many within the conservative movement bubble have done is overestimate the commitment of rank and file Republican voters to the ideology and list of policy positions that official conservatism has defined as what constitutes modern conservatism. That doesn’t mean that Republican voters are not conservative in the basic sense of the term, desiring to conserve what they have and skepticism toward change and grand schemes. That basic conservatism does not, however, necessarily translate into these voters buying the whole movement conservative package – free-market orthodoxy, commitment to “small government” qua small government, hostility to all economic regulation and intervention, free trade as a matter of principle, immigration as an economic good, foreign military adventurism, tax cuts for the rich, privatizing entitlements, etc. In fact, taken as a whole, this cluster of issues is not particularly popular, especially privatizing entitlements, nor are some of these issues conservative in the basic sense of attempting to conserve nor do they align with what conservatism has traditionally meant in a historical and philosophical sense.

What the Trump campaign has revealed is that a lot of Republican voters are actually Middle American Radicals (MARs), not box checking movement conservative ideologues. The reason Trump has been able to expose and exploit this mismatch, besides his celebrity and oversized personality, is because the reigning movement conservative paradigm has largely gone unchallenged on the Republican side until now. Republican outlets and pundits generally hew pretty closely to the party line and Republican primaries at every level are generally between candidates who may differ by degree, but largely remain within the established paradigm. The two recent notable exceptions to this, Pat Buchanan and (in a different way) Ron Paul, have been distinguished by their deviation from the Republican norm and like Trump, the conservative movement gatekeepers reacted to them with hysteria and vitriol.  

Especially on the issues of trade and immigration, the Republican Party and its “pro-business” globalist donor class have long been out of step with its more populist and nationalist base. It should be evident to even superficial observation that the latter is the more conservative impulse in the basic sense of the term, but it is revealing that official conservatism gives ideological cover to the former. Whether this is entirely by design or not is a subject for another article, but what it does is place NeverTrumpers, whether they realize it or not, in the role of defending the current paradigm under which the nation is declining and Middle Americans who actually vote Republican are suffering.

It is because these NeverTrumpers are really defending a system of thought and an ideological construct, rather than an actual country and its people, that they always wind up defending abstractions and speaking in universals. It is remarkable, for example, how much of the anti-Trump issue of National Review is dedicated to hand-wringing about so-called conservative principles and finger wagging at Trump and his supporters for supposedly not understanding and abandoning said principles because of his embrace of more nationalistic policies on trade, immigration and foreign policy. Imagine that. Who would have ever thought that Republican primary voters might actually support a candidate and a cluster of issues that focus on doing what is best for America and her people rather than maintaining adherence to a  party line that just so happens to align with the policy preferences of the power elite?

Whatever one may think of every policy aspect of this less ideological Middle American Radicalism that Trump has given voice to, and I have some qualms with parts of it myself, Steve Deace and others like him need to seriously consider whether they, in the grand scheme of things, really want to be on the side of stand pat globalism vs. a Trump inspired patriotic nationalist uprising. What is more important to them, ideological bean counting or resisting the forces that seek to turn their country into just another administrative unit of the globalist world order?

This essay was also published at Intellectual Conservative.