While Donald Trump can still conceivably yank victory from the jaws of defeat, it is not too early to rebut those ridiculous see-I-told-you-so obituaries now making the rounds. They go something like, 'If only we had nominated a statesman such as Ted Cruz, John Kasich or Jeb Bush, we would be enjoying a clean, issues-oriented campaign right now.'
The Never-Trumpers, self-identified conservatives and Republicans, would rather be proven right on November 8 than acknowledge that any threat to Democratic dominance, even Lindsay Graham, could come off like Larry Flynt under the light of the mainstream media.
Certainly a defeated Trump will have to shoulder some of the blame. Tactical errors, such as yielding to deliberately placed distractions and personal attacks, can prove fatal in a contest that leaves little room for error. Nonetheless, he deserves major kudos for performing as well as he did. Despite the deluge of hostility from every quarter of public life, he soldiered on, securing the nomination and stayed competitive in the general election. The fact that his voice was even audible above the caterwauling from the prima-donnas in the Never-Trump movement speaks volumes about a conservative movement that was deeply fractured before he announced his candidacy.
No need here to spend a lot of time detailing the failures of the Republican establishment. The bland, uninspiring leadership of John Boehner and his successor Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, John McCain, the Bush family, etc., have been well documented ('We can't repeal Obama-care until you give us the Senate!'). Establishment Republicans want to retain their titles and trendy Washington lifestyles. In a nutshell, those Republican leaders perplexed by Trump's ascension need only look to themselves.
The more potent discussion is the failure of the conservative movement as an ideological force. The Never-Trumpers who breathlessly remind us that Trump is no conservative miss two key points. Number one, Trump never claimed to be the intellectual heir to William F. Buckley. Conservatism, as Rush Limbaugh has pointed out, is not really on the ballot, at least not in the sense that most of us know it and value it. Donald Trump is practical, a doer, a problem solver, someone who esteems confidence over conviction. We see social problems, he sees challenges. He is a conservative only in the sense that he has given voice to, arguably, three major issues on which our survival as a nation hinges: national security, fair trade and border protection. In fact, some call this a single-issue election and argue that if Trump does only some of what he promises on immigration, he would be better than any establishment candidate.
The other point that Glenn Beck, Jonah Goldberg and others fail to consider is that just boasting solid conservative credentials is no guarantee of connecting with average voters. Furthermore, and you may not think it fair, a man such as Mitt Romney, who epitomizes class, decency and fidelity, is no shoo-in for the presidency, either. Voters seek that one leader who will fight for me
. Primary voters found their champion in a crass, vulgar, billionaire reality-show star. Simply, no one cares that Ben Sasse, Nebraska senator and prominent Never-Trumper, claims high marks from the Heritage Foundation for his conservative voting record. He has stepped onto the national stage to denounce Donald Trump - and no one else. It matters little to those working multiple part-time jobs just to make ends meet that Ted Cruz can recite the Constitutions backwards.
Conservatism that does not speak to day-to-day life is just abstract theory. Even more alienating, conservatism used as a means to extol America has been written off by ideological purists (such as Mark Levin, though he is now a reluctant Trump supporter) as populism, nativism and xenophobia. Laid-off factory workers can embrace free-trade, provided it is not explicitly opposed to fair trade. Bill Kristol (of The Weekly Standard
) does not comprehend this and other frustrations of the average American - it took Donald Trump to channel the anger over porous borders, political correctness and a slimy political culture that enriches vultures such as the Clintons.
Too many conservatives, taken with their own vanity, would rather be right than win, flirting with third parties and sitting out elections (to teach the GOP a lesson). Ads for congressional races in North Carolina already state that "if Hillary wins, there must be an opposing voice" (yeah, where have we heard that before?)
The left does not think that way. They will unite behind the aim of victory, unembarrassed by such duds as John Kerry, Michael Dukakis, Walter Mondale, etc. Internal debate is healthy, but any effective movement demands a degree of unity and cohesion. The left recognizes that, the right, not so much.
Did the GOP simply pick the wrong candidate? Trump led or tied Hillary numerous times since launching his candidacy. The mainstream media, despite competition from talk radio and the Internet, still wields enormous power in shaping the daily narrative and effecting the outcome of elections. Trump simply threatened the livelihood and vanity of many-a Washington insider. Donald Trump didn't place the GOP and conservatism on life support, though he did try to revive them. More notably, he spent millions of his own dollars and became the most controversial figure of his time by challenging the powerful on behalf of the powerless. Not to deny his numerous imperfections, if he loses, it will be less for what he did wrong and more for what he did right, much of which he did alone.