Trump is What Conservatives Do (or have done since 1950)

Maybe Trump’s 45 minutes of fame (he certainly has more than the rest of us) are coming to an end. But I continue to be surprised by the woe-is-me-conservatism that accompanies his candidacy and appeal (and I am not going to vote for him — there). He is an insurgent, he is a populist, he is undignified, he’s a threat to the GOP establishment.

So was William F. Buckley, Jr. (and he was a traditionalist Roman Catholic).

First Rod Dreher’s hand-wringing:

What Trump has shown, and is showing every day, is how out of touch Conservatism, Inc., is with the people for whom it purports to speak. They haven’t had a chance to vote for someone like him in a long, long time because, as I’ve said, the GOP and Conservatism, Inc., gatekeepers kept them down. The conservative Christians who have gone to Washington and gotten invited to be in the inner Republican power circles? You think those professional Christians really speak for the people back home anymore?

Me, I’m in a weird and extremely unrepresentative place, politically and ideologically. I am mostly a cosmopolitan in my tastes, but I live by choice in deep Red America, and am a traditionalist by conviction. What Sean Trende says about the Republican and conservative elites living inside a cosmopolitan bubble is true — and the people who give money to the GOP and to the think-tank archipelago are Business Conservatives who, as we now know post-Indiana RFRA, regard we traditionalists are the problem.

Second, Michael Brendan Dougherty on the problem with the editors of National Review repudiating Donald Trump:

You could call it a freak out on the right.

National Review, the flagship journal of the conservative movement, published a surprisingly defensive symposium, asserting the continued relevance of conservative ideas against an election-year populist challenger, who promised to fight for American jobs and sovereignty. “The old guard threw everything they had at him, and their diminished power is now exposed,” wrote David Brooks. This crude challenger to the party’s status quo had to be stopped.

That was eight years ago. And it was Mike Huckabee, whose advisor Ed Rollins declared the Reagan coalition dead. The challenge was sufficiently contained, then. But it was the first time that I noticed that the anti-establishment kick reflex that the conservative movement had installed in its Frankenstein-coalition of voters had turned around and began kicking them.

Donald Trump and his coalition of voters kick a lot harder than Mike Huckabee. And so we have another symposium, now exclusively anti-Trump. But this time around, even movement-bred stalwarts are wondering if Ed Rollins had a point. Maybe the coalition is dead.

There’s something faintly comical about everyone in the Republican party shouting, “I’m not the establishment. That guy is.” The conservative movement long ago defeated the East Coast establishment of the party. It was a total rout; the last semi-moderate New England Republicans were defeated a decade ago. And yet, conservatives still insist that they are fighting some powerful establishment within the Republican Party.

The irony is that National Review’s founding editor, Buckley, had a lot to do with defeating the East Coast Establishment GOP. Garry Wills knows the score:

Joe Scarborough, in a recent book, The Right Path: From Ike to Reagan, How Republicans Once Mastered Politics—and Can Again, claims that moderate conservatism is the real Republican orthodoxy, interrupted at times by “extremists” like Goldwater or the Tea Party.3 He suggests Dwight Eisenhower as the best model for Republicans to imitate. Yet Scarborough is also an admirer of Buckley, and his thesis does not explain—as Dionne’s thesis does—why Buckley despised Eisenhower. Eisenhower, as the first Republican elected president after the New Deal era of Roosevelt and Truman, was obliged in Buckley’s eyes to dismantle the New Deal programs, or at least to begin the dismantling. Buckley resembled the people today who think the first task of a Republican president succeeding Obama will be to repeal or take apart the Affordable Care Act.

Eisenhower, instead, adhered to the “Modern Republicanism” expounded by the law professor Arthur Larson, which accepted the New Deal as a part of American life. Eisenhower said, “Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history.” It was to oppose that form of Republicanism that Buckley founded National Review in 1955, with a program statement that declared: “Middle-of-the-Road, qua Middle-of-the-Road is politically, intellectually, and morally repugnant.”

Buckley hated Eisenhower’s foreign policy as much as his domestic one. He said, “Eisenhower was above all a man unguided and hence unhampered by principle. Eisenhower undermines the Western resolution to stand up and defend what is ours.” When Russia put down the 1956 uprising in Hungary and Eisenhower did not intervene, National Review called for people to sign the Hungary Pledge—to have no dealings with iron curtain products or exchanges (Buckley’s wife had to give up Russian caviar).

Admittedly, Buckley did not, like Robert Welch (founder of the John Birch Society), think Eisenhower was a secret Communist (as many Republicans now think Obama is a secret Muslim). Buckley thought that Eisenhower had no greater purpose than his own success: “It has been the dominating ambition of Eisenhower’s Modern Republicanism to govern in such a fashion as to more or less please more or less everybody.”

The sense of betrayal by one’s own is a continuing theme in the Republican Party (a Fox News poll in September 2015 found that 62 percent of Republicans feel “betrayed” by their own party’s officeholders). The charges against Eisenhower were repeated against Nixon, who brought Kissingerian “détente” into his dealing with Russia and renewed diplomatic ties to China. On the domestic front, he imposed wage and price controls and sponsored the welfare schemes of Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Buckley joined the effort to “primary” Nixon in 1972 by running John Ashbrook against him. Buckley campaigned for Ashbrook in New Hampshire, but he succumbed to pleas from Spiro Agnew (before his disgrace) and Henry Kissinger (a new friend of his) that he endorse Nixon for the general election.

Any American with conservative instincts should in the presence of Donald Trump act like we’ve been here before.

39 thoughts on “Trump is What Conservatives Do (or have done since 1950)

  1. Anyone who buy’s Cruz’ “outsider” shtick–a man who is literally married to GoldmanSachs–is as drunk on this year’s political hooch as Trumpkins are.

    To whatever degree a headway-making Trump is really “uncontrolled” by the Ruling Party, you can probably count on an RFK scenario to solve that “problem.”

    Then, there’s always the “black box” voting mechanism to guarantee an outcome.

    “Voting counts for nothing. Who counts the votes is everything,” Stalin. Or was that Trump?


  2. Thoughtful post. I have often thought of my father this season, whose beau ideal was Senator Robert Taft. He held his nose and voted for Eisenhower and Nixon every time they were on the ballot, but I grew up listening to stories about the dastardly deeds pulled off by the Eastern Establishment at the 1952 convention. He was a joyous Goldwater backer in 1964, though I am to this day not so sure he really wanted him to actually win the White House (Dad was not an enthusiastic cold warrior, to put it mildly. He thought some damn fool, Russian or American, would get us all blown up if anybody took the rhetoric seriuosly. ) Seeing the EE get its nose bloodied was enough.

    I also thank back to the 1976 Ford/Reagan contest. A close personal friend was a delegate to the Kansas City convention, I think the youngest member of our state’s delegation, pledged to Ford. I saw her a week or so after it was over, asked her how it went, and to my great surprise almost broke down in tears, saying “Dan, we nominated the wrong guy.” That was an establishment vs.insurgent contest also, and she was a big fan of Howard Baker, whose people were 100% for Ford, though the delegation split down the middle. Reagan’s “impromptu” closing speech totally won her over. But she had the great pleasure of going to the next two GOP Conventions as a Reagan delegate.

    Forgive the musings of an old f**t, but I really do feel like I’m watching reruns.


  3. Better Trump than the evangelical conspiracy.

    Cruz—“Kings were anointed to go to war, win the war, and bring the spoils of war to priests so the work of the kingdom of God could be accomplished. The king needed the blessing of the priest in order to be successful in battle… The priest also needed for the king to be successful in battle because the priest needed the spoils of war in order to repair the temple, in order to carry out the ministry that God had entrusted him.”

    If you are patient enough, you can make a nation Christian in the same way that you make an infant a Christian. You baptize it. First you say to a nation that it is Christian, and then you can talk to it like you do to Christians. But if the United States is not a Christian nation, ,then what can you say to Americans about what they should do?

    Defending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom , Peter Leithart, IVP, 2010 , page 333: “The Creator made man to participate in and prosecute His wars.”


  4. A government shutdown sounds great. But the only thing worse than someone on a mission from God to make a big hooplah about pretending to shut down the government is Ted Cruz being that person.

    “Socialism requires that government becomes your God.” – Cruz (or his papa). This and “welfare makes people lazy” are the only arguments I hear from the Eeevangelical GOPers about leftism. But a better argument is “the government should stop stealing my stuff.” But then someone could argue “the government should stop killing people too.” And that’s just crazy.


  5. First we should note that, for some, Conservatism has become a religion. Its followers believe that when real Conservatism is followed correctly, all of our problems are solved. So it is understandable to see its adherents carve out their niches for being the true interpreters of Conservatism. Should note that all ideologies have such followers.

    Second, we should distinguish Conservatism from any institution, like the GOP, that claims to represent it. After all, the first concern for any institution is self-preservation regardless of what principles must be followed or broken.

    Third, there were actions in Eisenhower’s foreign policies to detest even if they would be approved by Buckley. The coups his administration participated in Iran (’53) and Guatemala (’54) as well as the attempts to help the French recolonize Vietnam and the ignoring of the Geneva Accords both were worthy of scorn and caused massive suffering. As for Eisenhower’s refusal to intervene when the USSR put down a Hungarian revolt, why would anyone rush headfirst into a conflict with a nation that, like one’s own nation, could obliterate the world with nuclear weapons? After all, wasn’t one of Eisenhower’s campaign promises to end the Korean War?


  6. Rod Dreher: You think those professional Christians really speak for the people back home anymore?

    only some Christians are ‘professional’* Christians’?
    * merriam-webster: characterized by or conforming to the technical or ethical standards of a profession; following a line of conduct as though it were a profession

    2k & r2k? = professional Christians in the world, in their professions


  7. Curt, conservatism inherently rejects notions of “following prescriptions and ideologies correctly in order to solve all our problems,” so if anyone begins to take that posture he’s moved off the conservative reservation and closer to yours. Watch out for those boomerangs.


  8. Zrim,
    Again, trying to define conservativism so that it has no problems. Yes, conservatism has its own ideology and that revolves around a select set of traditional values. And, btw, my comments about conservatism are observational. And your comment fits into that observation


  9. Dr. Hart– “Any American with conservative instincts should in the presence of Donald Trump act like we’ve been here before.”

    Yes and no. Your key qualifier is since 1950. Problem is that Americans (right or wrong) still hold on to perceived ideals that go further back than 1950. I thought old lifers always did analysis going back to at least 1517 even in analysis having to do with America. 🙂 I’d like to think I have more conservative instincts, but isn’t it fair to say that the nation as a whole is just way more liberal than the years gone by that these pieces point toward? Even way more liberal than we were since 1950? Yes we have seen similar party infighting, that is not new, but things do seem different in the kind of more splintered fragmentation, even compared to 20 years ago. Conservatives don’t do coalitions effectively anymore.

    An alliance for combined action, among widely varied people united behind a cause, especially temporary alliance of political parties.

    Viewed historically or developmentally as a smaller social group existing outside the development of coalitions or political views. A tribe is a distinct people, dependent on their own, for their own livelihood, who are largely self-sufficient and not Integrated into national society.

    I’m well aware that many cringe at the word tribe, but I’m not using it here in the ethnic group sense, but more an outsider mentality that seems ever heightened today. As stated, everyone thinks they are the independent one in any given setting, everyone is the anti- establishment candidate, or whatever. Could it be that we (voters) are just more stubbornly tribal and want to stay tribal as a nation than we have been before, at least the last 100 years anyway? Were we at one time more coalition orientated?

    Warning anicdotal true story coming…….My grandfather served as a Marine (purple heart) WWII in the South Pacific. My grandmother was on staff for General Marshall in Washinton, DC, during WWll, he was Protestant, she was Roman Catholic. They could not stand Roosevelt politically, but they respected him tremendously, from the time I was a kid until the day they both died I often heard how the country came together with sincere unity (not perfect) during WWII. Rationing of gas, beef, sugar, etc. I cannot even fathom whiny Americans doing this today without a national temper tantrum. If that is true, then things are very different. Media was different then, maybe Americans were more easy to control, maybe we were more gullible then, I don’t know maybe, but I like to think not. I’m not polyannish about it, but I’m not buying into Howard Zinn’s and Gore Vidal’s versions of it all either.

    Today we want our tribal local food co-op yet enjoy the trip to Walmart, but want to remain tribal/ independent throughout. Everyone in America view themselves as utterly distinct. Yeah, I know we always have, but it is a bit off the charts now in terms of the “perception” we Americans have of ourselves in this regard, to the point where coalitions are just flat out more difficult. Now I sound like the old f–t!

    WFB would have hated Trump being in the lead (up until yesterday, although historically that loss means nothing) at least the WFB of his last 25 years.

    The only short term temporary thing we can get united about today is Twitter, it has to be that short term to hold our attention. Like I say, I’m becoming the old f–t!


  10. E. Burns, don’t you think Buckley might have set the wheels of movement conservatism and rocking the boat into motion? Sure, he would disapprove of Trump’s candidacy (though I bet they would have sailed together). But when Buckley was a young man, he might have been the 1950s Trump.


  11. Trump’s appeal is he is not a mealy-mouthed nancyboy afraid of the media. He is running for president of a pagan nation, and not pope, and I for one think all the preaching about how he is a non-Christian option pushes people in the other direction. Ted Cruz is a Christian option? Please. Pope Francis is a male Mother Teresa, and he’s a goof. Jonah Goldberg at National Review… well, who knows how right he is, but he’s gotta be awfully tanned after all money-making cruises.


  12. Dr. Hart,

    For sure on WFB rocking boats, Buckley was a big part of setting that all in motion, but he did it via much more thoughtful venues (Firing line) than modern wanna bees. (The Apprentice)
    I guess that I would grant you that Buckley was the 1950’s Trump, kind of. I only wish the 2016 Buckly’s were smarter more interesting. I would have loved to have had a beer and chat with Reagan, Buckley or Goldwater. For that matter Gore Vidal. I would rather do almost anything than hang out with the utter arrogant bore that is Donald Trump. Unlike Gore Vidal, Buckley actually had a wider range of friends and associates, he (contrary to his sometimes image) was not a snob. He would hang out with those who were his vast intellectual inferior. So yes he would have sailed with Trump.

    It drives me crazy how often modern political pragmatists misuse the “Buckley Rule.” He was never wanting just the most electable candidate, he always wanted the one that would best advance our cause or Nat. Review type conservatism, win or lose. He saw this as advancing cultural and political thought. The modern Buckley’s are all about getting elected and power. Even if they have to be pimps and whores in the process.

    On a side, yet related note, Best of Enemies was one of the best political/ cultural documentaries in a while.


  13. Curt Day: “First we should note that, for some, Conservatism has become a religion. Its followers believe that when real Conservatism is followed correctly, all of our problems are solved. So it is understandable to see its adherents carve out their niches for being the true interpreters of Conservatism”

    I imagine Curt and I will disagree politically, nonetheless this is a very solid point. Most of the Fox News Evangelicals I know don’t even hold to Biblcal Christianity. Indeed it has become their religion.


  14. Only someone used to shrugging can put Buckley and Pope Francis together as a package deal:

    Our Constitution and Bill of Rights, William F. Buckley Jr. said, “grew out of a long, empirical journey, the eternal spark of which, of course, traces to Bethlehem, to that star that magnified man beyond any power of the emperors and gold seekers and legions of soldiers and slaves: a star that implanted in each one of us that essence that separates us from the beasts, and tells us that we were made in the image of God and were meant to be free.”

    Politics is noble work, even if it doesn’t always seem that way when operatives — and hosts — are shouting over one another. As Pope Francis put it to Congress during his visit here this past September:

    “Yours is a work, which makes me reflect in two ways on the figure of Moses. On the one hand, the patriarch and lawgiver of the people of Israel symbolizes the need of peoples to keep alive their sense of unity by means of just legislation. On the other, the figure of Moses leads us directly to God and thus to the transcendent dignity of the human being. Moses provides us with a good synthesis of your work: you are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face.”

    It’s not too hard to lose sight of that crucial work in the heat of an election.


  15. Another Roman Catholic precedent for Trump (except that Roman Catholics are divided):

    Trump might have a distinctly Protestant ethic, but he’s most often compared with America’s foremost conservative Catholic populist, Pat Buchanan. In 1992, 1996 and 2000, Buchanan ran for president on a platform similar to Trump’s. He was anti-immigration, critical of free trade and, as Trump has hinted, sceptical of foreign intervention. The Buchanan and Trump tickets both tapped into an American tradition of business nationalism, which keeps the government out of personal affairs except to protect industry and raise the prospects of the little man. Buchanan has welcomed the Trump candidacy and Trump has praised Buchanan. They are both pro-life and anti-gun control. (Buchanan once defined good gun control as being able to aim well.)

    But Buchanan only represents one dimension of US political Catholicism – its socially conservative wing with fond family memories of the Fifties rosary crusades led by Bing Crosby. There is also a liberal, internationalist wing, keen to remind Catholics of European descent that they were once immigrants too and were persecuted by the Anglo-Saxon “natives”. Contemporary liberal Catholics, who take their lead from the Vatican II reforms of the 1960s and are strongly represented by Democrats on the Hill, regard Pope Francis as an advocate of progress. Buchanan, by contrast, has criticised Francis’s theology. Trump has challenged his economics.


  16. It’s not “divided”. “Catholic” means being all things to all people, inclusive enough to be Mormon, and evangelical and Romanist all at the same time. All together it makes for a great pietist experience

    Ruio craves Holy Communion.

    Rubio wrote that Christ Fellowship deepened his relationship with Jesus, but that he missed Roman Catholicism. “I craved, literally, the Most Blessed Sacrament, Holy Communion, the sacramental point of contact between the Catholic and the liturgy of heaven,” he wrote. “I wondered why there couldn’t be a church that offered both a powerful, contemporary gospel message and the actual body and blood of Jesus.” Starting in late 2004, he began to delve deeper into his Roman Catholic roots, reading the whole catechism, and concluding that “every sacrament, every symbol and tradition of the Catholic faith is intended to convey, above everything else, the revelation that God yearns, too, for a relationship with you.

    “You get a better grip of the same thing in the Sacrament than you got by the hearing of the Word. That same thing which you possess by the hearing of the Word, you now possess more fully. God has more room in your soul, through your receiving of the Sacrament, than He could otherwise have by your hearing of the Word only. What then, you ask, is the new thing we get? We get Christ better than we did before. We get the thing which we had more fully, that is, with a surer apprehension than we had before. We get a better grip of Christ now, for by the Sacrament my faith is nourished, the bounds of my soul are enlarged, and so where I had but a little of Christ before, as it were, between my finger and my thumb, now I get Him in my whole hand, and indeed the more my faith grows, the better grip I get of Christ Jesus.


  17. “At home, in Florida, he and his family attend both a Catholic church and a Baptist one—the faith equivalent of suspenders and a belt. In Iowa this week, Rubio humble-bragged that the pundits had dismissed him because “my hair wasn’t gray enough and my boots were too high.” In other words, Republicans, at least this one, can get their millennial groove on, too.”


  18. There is a big difference between providing helpful criticism to a ruling party and actually trying to run things as the ruling party.

    Compromise and reality get in the way between utopia and actual leading.

    In church and in state.

    I’m astounded that the people elect Conservative governments at all in the US, Canada and the UK. There must be some level of common sense and decency that prevails every two or three general elections, fortunately.


  19. DGH, according to Michael Barone, Cruz beat Trump among Evangelicals, but not by a lot- 34k to 25k. The obligatory disdain among the Evangelical chattering class towards Trump and his supporters is getting some blowback, though.

    Early voting starts here Wednesday. I honestly don’t know how I will vote. I have friends who are committed to Bush, Rubio, Cruz and Kasich. None of them are confident that their guy will make it, most think Trump won’t. If Kasich survives NH, he has some awfully strong ($ and experience, not numbers) support here, in fact to me, surprising. I deeply respect a couple of his major backers here. But NH is a heavy lift.


  20. DGH, not surprising that Moore has a lot of supporters out there, who feel he is an upgrade over Land. That he has been so far in the front of the anti-Trump crowd kind of is a surprise, though. I don’t try to understand the SBC any more, but Trump has a decent amount of supporters around here who go to SBC Churches. Probably behind Cruz, may be about tied with Rubio.


  21. RusselL Moore and Mohler are not even the popes of southern baptists, let alone other evangelicals.

    The folks supporting Ted Cruz are even more irresponsible than the theonomists. They want the “elijah option”, not the rules of Benedict.

    Johnny Enlow—“The Mountain of Government, or politics, is a mountain that the Lord is beginning to position His children to invade and take. . . . Because of the enemy’s firm grip on this mountain, it’s a very dangerous mountain to take if one is not spiritually prepared for it. Yet we must take it. The Elijah Revolution will begin to displace the forces of darkness from this mountain and establish righteous government on its top. . . .”


  22. McMark, I guess I know at least a dozen Cruz supporters. I am reasonably certain that they would not endorse anything like 7MD. If some prominent Cruz backers do, well, this is primary season and you win primaries by addition, not subtraction, at least this early in the game.


  23. No need to hate or disagree with father, when the name of the game is being “catholic” enough to add those in contradiction with each other? Rafael Cruz is not only a “supporter”

    John Fea—During a 2012 sermon at New Beginnings Church in Bedford, Texas, Rafael Cruz described his son’s political campaign as a direct fulfillment of biblical prophecy. The elder Cruz told the congregation that God would anoint Christian “kings” to preside over an “end-time transfer of wealth” from the wicked to the righteous. After this sermon, Larry Huch, the pastor of New Beginnings, claimed Cruz’s recent election to the U.S. Senate was a sign that he was one of these kings.

    According to his father and Huch, Ted Cruz is anointed by God to help Christians in their effort to “go to the marketplace and occupy the land … and take dominion” over it. This “end-time transfer of wealth” will relieve Christians of all financial woes, allowing true believers to ascend to a position of political and cultural power in which they can build a Christian civilization. When this Christian nation is in place (or back in place), Jesus will return. Rafael Cruz and Larry Huch believe Christians must take dominion over seven aspects of culture: family, religion, education, media, entertainment, business and government. The name of the movement comes from Isaiah 2:2: “Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains.”

    But if you really want to be “catholic”, go evangelical on Saturday night, and papist on Sunday morning, like Rubio—both belt and suspenders.

    I am left to wonder if Scott Clark has any problem with a president of the USA visiting (once) a Reformed church or synagogue.


  24. The people who like Cruz do seem to like him for his “genuine Christianity” though. I have a friend who went to a rally last week in SC and that was his big take away. He said Cruz asked the people to pray for him. But in a “y’all pray for me now” way. “And you could tell he really meant it.”

    Also, maybe just a coincidence but this friend’s dad and I hit it off well when we first met because I was reading lots of American Vision material at the time.


  25. McMark, 80% plus of the voters who end up in Cruz’s corner will be influenced by Fox News and Rush Limbaugh’s take on him and won’t have a clue about his father.


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