Conservatism Inc. breaks with Trump. Still.
After a disappointing election night, conservative elites have decided to try to break with Donald Trump. which is great. Except they’ve been here before. After Helsinki, after Charlottesville and after January 6. None of these other breakups lasted. There is no reason to believe that this time will be any different.
At least four pieces on National examThe homepage of explicitly pinned the Republicans’ underperformance on the former guy. They even published an op-ed on the subject, writing that “rarely has an election had simpler and more obvious lessons” than this year’s main takeaway that the GOP must move on from Trump.
Conservatism Inc. even had an answer for how the party should continue: Saint Ron DeSantis.
Nathanael Blake published an article in the Federalist arguing that Republicans must choose between Trump and winning the election. Blake wrote that Trump’s impact on the midterm elections makes it clear that Republicans need to “look the other way.” He suggested Florida. Hugo Gurdon, editor of the Washington Examinerhoped Republican losses would have the “silver lining” of “turning[ing] decisively distance them from “Trump”. Ben Shapiro designed a tweet thread analyzing mid-runs that included blame for Trump and praise for DeSantis.
And of course many “anonymous Republican sources” took the opportunity to compose their favorite reporters and commentators (again) to air out their frustrations at how Trump screwed them (again).
It’s good to hope that this time it will take. But we’ve all seen this movie before. Many, many, many times before.
Jhis phenomenon is as old as Trump’s political career. Remember National examof the show “Against Trump” in 2016? To his credit, National exam never fully endorsed Trump. He simply embraced anti-anti-Trumpism: no matter how bad Trump was, the Democrats were worse.
The Federalist has gone from a powerful warning about the dangers of Trump and Trumpism to becoming the “home base” of the anti-anti-Trump movement, as Damon Linker once called them. At first they just defended Trump, attacked his Republican critics, and advanced the ideas and instincts of Trumpism. Eventually, they ended up outright declaring themselves “Trump supporters.”
Ben Shapiro also flip-flopped. After writing in 2016, “I will never vote for Donald Trump. Never,” Shapiro voted for him in 2020. Shapiro claimed he was wrong about Trump’s policy (he hadn’t been) and that while he did not have got Trump’s character wrong, it didn’t matter because “whatever damage he was going to do, it’s already been done”. Oh, and the Democrats are worse. Still.
After Trump’s main opponents in 2016, most of whom had been highly critical of him, were voted out by voters, they all lined up equally. Some have become loyal doggies of the Senate (Rubio, Cruz, Graham). Others have obtained positions in the Trump administration (Carson, Perry). Chris Christie’s crucial endorsement earned him a vital campaign role as Door Dasher and stage prop for Mr Trump. Later, Christie was assigned to lead Trump’s transition team, and although he was fired from that gig and his work was tossed in the trash, he was able to turn it into a book that sold nearly 2,300 copies in its first week.
In 2017, when Trump said there were “very good people on both sides” of the murderous Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Republicans with varying degrees of allegiance to Trump directly and indirectly pushed him back.
To National exam the editorial board criticized Trump’s comments and called on him to condemn white supremacy. But they were broad-minded enough to publish dissenting opinions, with articles by Andrew McCarthy and Deroy Murdock, respectively, arguing that Trump was right. And that Charlottesville was the from the left fault too.
OWhen Trump met with Vladimir Putin and then publicly sided with Putin on the U.S. intelligence community, congressional Republicans felt they had enough cover to criticize Trump, or at least his statements. Most of those who were the most outspoken in their criticism have since retired. In true turtle fashion, Mitch McConnell refuted Trump’s comments, but then kept his wagon hitched to the Trump train.
National examRich Lowry called Trump’s comments “appalling.” Ben Shapiro, Andrew McCarthy and Michael Brendan Dougherty joined Lowry in writing National exam pieces that condemned Trump’s conduct in Helsinki. But Helsinki quickly faded into the background. Neither he nor Charlottesville was enough to keep NR to give platform to multiple mainstream intellectual conservative justifications for Trump’s 2020 re-election.
The Washington ExaminerEditors slammed Trump for “giving in” to Biden before telling everyone to calm down about Helsinki a month later. Apparently the Examiner calmed down fairly quickly; just weeks after the summit, they published a column claiming that “no president has been tougher on Russia than Trump.”
JThe Jan. 6 uprising drew even more Republican criticism of Trump. Enough that it looked like maybe – just maybe – the fever had died down, and the Republicans would walk away from Trump for real this time.
From high-profile figures like Mitch McConnell to moderate “rising star” freshmen like Nancy Mace and Mike Gallagher, Republican after Republican has criticized Trump for bearing at least partial responsibility for Jan. 6. Yet, within days, nearly all folded and voted against his second impeachment.
Of the ten House Republicans who actually held Trump accountable by voting for impeachment, eight will not return to Congress next January. Excoriated by their Republican compatriots, they were forced to give up or beaten in the primaries.
Apparently, Chris Christie would have joined them. When George Stephanopoulos asked Christie if he would vote for impeachment, he replied, “If I think it’s an impenetrable offense, that’s exactly what I would do, George, but I’m not in [Congress]. . . . I think if inciting insurrection is not [impeachable] so I don’t really know what it is. But impeachment and disqualification are not the same thing for Christie: he said last November that he would support Trump again in 2024.
And Conservatism Inc.? The day after January 6, the Federalist posted a track that almost sounded like a Never Trump screed:
The Republican Party of the future cannot tacitly, quietly, or in the least encourage grievances or stoke anger. He must not aid, encourage, or give credence to wild conspiracy theories from the likes of QAnon, Sidney Powell, and Lin Wood. . . .
What we saw on January 6, 2021 is not a surprising outcome when people are wrongly told their votes don’t make sense because elections are “rigged” and democracy in America is a sham. What we saw on January 6, 2021 is also not a surprising outcome when people are wrongly told that an all-powerful and infamous “deep state” controls every lever of power in America and that a equally obscure cabal of “globalists” controls the world. . . .
Yet if the Republican Party is to have any hope of salvaging its image and winning another election, it must look beyond the fortunes of one person, especially if that man is the destabilizing force known as Donald Trump. Let personality cults belong to other parties and other nations, and let the American presidency return to the level of responsible power the Founders envisioned for the executive branch.
The next day the Federalist published excerpts from a speech by South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, which they titled “The Republican Party Has Failed America, and Here’s How It Needs to Change Now.”
But for Conservatism Inc., Democrats are always worse than Republicans – so it wasn’t long before the Federalist back to standard. A week after the Capitol attack, he published an article titled “Democrats Use Recent Capitol Riot to Consolidate Power.” Things only got worse from there. In December 2021, a Federalist the article claimed that “Nancy Pelosi owns January 6”. This year, Mollie Hemingway wrote that “J6 Hysteria is the media and other Democrats’ way of avoiding accountability for their rigging of the 2020 election” and called the House Jan. 6 committee a “trial -show” which is “lying about electoral ‘fraud’. Another article compared the January 6 Committee to the Chinese Communist Party.
For his part, the Washington Examiner eventually published an op-ed stating that Jan. 6 had proven Trump “unfit for office.” They issued this institutional statement not when it might have made political sense – say at the time of the second impeachment – but on June 29, 2022.
OWhy does Conservatism Inc. always come back to Trump? Because that’s where their audience is. “Post-Trump” Republicans have not fared well in primary contests against Trump supporters — just ask David McCormick, Bill McSwain, Karrin Taylor Robson and Matt Dolan. Why? Because Republican voters didn’t want it.
Conservatism Inc. didn’t want Trump in 2016. It tried to convince Republican voters to support Jeb!, then Rubio, then Cruz. Conservatism Inc. tried to tell Republican voters that Trump was ineligible, that he would hurt the party, that he would cost Republican elections. And Republican voters didn’t care. They chose Trump. And after that, Conservatism Inc. had to either jump on board or make some serious life decisions.
So Conservatism Inc. can talk big about the fact that the GOP finally filed for divorce from Trump to marry their mistress (DeSantis). But for better or worse, Republican voters can make that call. And as long as Republican voters still want Trump, conservative elites will comply. They always have.
Because at the end of the day, for Conservatism Inc., the only non-negotiable tenet of conservatism is that, as bad as a Republican may be, Democrats are still worse.