I just had a rather refreshing weekend. Why, you may ask? Not once did I go on Facebook, and though I perused some of my favorite blogs, I stayed out of the comments section (except for this blog, naturally). It’s amazing what a little internet hiatus can do for the spirit.
The comments sections of conservative blogs in particular have been sources of frustration. So while I enjoyed parts of Kevin Williamson’s post about “Whinos’ on National Review Online (even if it’s a bit overdone), I knew enough not to get sucked into the comments, because it would have only filled me with despair.
When Donald Trump initially announced his candidacy I reacted like a good number of conservatives: I rolled my eyes and just tried to pretend that he wasn’t there. Then a funny thing happened. The more that conservative pundits criticized the Donald, the more popular he became. Soon Trump caught fire, and is probably the most discussed candidate in the race.
This should have been predictable. I noticed this trend during the 2012 campaign as well. The more it seems that a certain candidate is bashed in the press, the more a certain section of the conservative movement flocks to that person. It’s almost as though every time a Kevin Williamson or Jonah Goldberg pens a column bashing Donald Trump, the larger his support grows.
Of course there’s more to Trump’s popularity than mere spite. He tells it like it. Or so I’ve been told repeatedly by erstwhile conservatives who are sick and tired of the establishment (maaaaaan). Somehow modern day conservatives have morphed into hippies, stuck on an endless loop railing against the establishment, and Donald Trump represents that counter-culture.
And the thing is, as Ace so aptly observes, Trump’s ascendancy can be laid at the feet of many of the people who loathe him so much. The fecklessness of the Republican party has turned off a great many conservatives. The grassroots feels – with complete justification – that the party has abandoned them. Handed majorities in the House and Senate, it seems that the GOP leadership is afraid to do anything with their majorities. Understandably their options are limited with Barack Obama in the White House, but Boehner, McConnell have folded without even trying to take on the administration.
On the specific issue of immigration, many on the right feel that the party leadership is more apt to side with the Democrats than with their grassroots. Along comes Trump, “telling it like it is,” confronting the media head on. He’s not politically correct, and he doesn’t apologize. He says outrageous things and he doesn’t back down. He is effectively the young conservative id given voice.
Here’s the problem. The same conservatives who have been smitten by the Trump are those that regularly bash the GOP – again rightly – for making noise but failing to follow through on its promises. So what have they done? They’ve gotten behind a demagogic con man who not too long ago was criticizing Mitt Romney for being too harsh on the issue of illegal immigration, who has voiced support for single payer health care, who once backed partial birth abortion, and who has given money to Hillary Clinton and voiced general approval for her and the current incumbent of the White House. Jay Caruso is right when he says that Trump’s “truth telling” persona is a myth. And yet a large segment of the conservative base will continue to insist that Trump is a “truth teller,” while bashing Jonah Goldberg and others who are writing things that they know will upset their readership.
Just last week I was informed by one of these fearless Trumpaholics that he could never support Ted Cruz – a man he agrees with “99 percent of the time” – because of his initial support for Trade Promotion Authority. Nevermind that TPA was something that conservatives have traditionally championed, and nevermind the fact that Ted Cruz backed off his support. Oh no. You see Ted Cruz had demonstrated impurity. So who’s the fallback? A man who, if given a dose of sodium pentothal before being asked his political views, would register to the left of Jeb Bush (and Lindsay Graham and George Pataki, for that matter) on the political spectrum.*
And that, ultimately, is why I have grown more frustrated. I get Trump’s emotional appeal, but beyond that it is sickening to watch events unfold as they are. Once again conservatives purists are going to hand the nomination to the very person that they claim to despise. Why? Because they will pick off, one by one, candidates that express an impure thought, or who are less vocal in supporting the things they support than they’d like. So eminently qualified candidates with a proven conservative track record will be cast aside for some demagogue who says the right things but who is as genuine as a three dollar bill. And in the end the very man they’re all trying to avoid being the nominee will be the man who gets the nod.
The funny thing is that often Trump supporters imply that any criticism of Trump is a sign that you want Jeb Bush to win, as though there aren’t 15 other choices in this race, some of them even good choices. Yet they are doing as much to guarantee that Jeb is the ultimate nominee. Which is why it’s going to be amusing a year from now when all of them rail against the evil establishment that has given them GOP nominee Jeb Bush, when it is they who will have done more to make that nightmare a reality.
Of course Donald Trump will eventually flame out. He’ll say something wrong, as someone with no convictions is wont to do. So he’ll lose ground in the polls to someone else who can bloviate and act like he is a champion come to rescue the masses.
Chris Christie can hardly wait.