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As a good traditional conservative, I like Westerns. If you watch a lot of Westerns you will eventually discern that many of them have a very similar theme. This theme is that the breed of men it took to tame the Wild West is different from the breed of men it took to civilize the West once it was more or less tamed. This is an important life lesson with real world application. Conservatives should watch more Westerns and less Fox News.
The outstanding example of this theme is the 1962 John Ford classic, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (IMDB 8.1). If you haven’t seen it, especially if you consider yourself any kind of trad con, I strongly recommend that you stop reading this and watch it and then return to this article when you are done. You can stream it on Amazon for $2.99. For those who have never had the pleasure of watching it or have not watched it recently, I will provide a brief and largely spoiler free overview.
Ransom Stoddard, played by Jimmy Stewart, arrives in a small Western town after being robbed and beaten by the feared local outlaw, Liberty Valance. The story is told in retrospect, so we know that Stoddard goes on to become a United States Senator after the territory achieves statehood. Stoddard is a bookish lawyer and a decent man who is all about justice and the rules, but he is constitutionally ill-equipped to deal with the chaos and violence that Valance and his crew visit upon the town. The film makes it very clear that Stoddard, unlike the cowardly local sheriff, is not without courage, but he has the kind of courage of his convictions that gets a decent man killed in the Wild West. He refuses to concede the reality that sometimes in the real world, principles have to give way to the way things actually are.
Stoddard, from the already civilized East, is attempting to act according to his “back East” values, despite the fact that he is no longer back East. A local who is quite handy with a gun, Tom Doniphon, played by John Wayne, sees what is going on with his sincere but hapless friend, and attempts to explain to him the way things work in his new environment. Men like Valance, Doniphon explains, aren’t impressed by his principles. They only understand force. This lesson is illustrated by the famous ending of the film, which I will not spoil. Stoddard goes on to thrive post-statehood in the more civilized environment for which his skill set and demeanor are better suited, while Doniphon lives out the rest of his life in lonely isolation, his temperament and skill set no longer needed.
The above theme is common in Westerns because history reveals it is based in truth. It is not a coincidence that some of the most famous Western lawmen were also former outlaws themselves (“Wild Bill” Hickok, “Doc” Holliday, Wyatt Earp, etc.).
I have previously made it clear that I believe there are some sincere conservative opponents of Donald Trump who are genuinely put off by his at times, shall we say, less than decorous and gentlemanly behavior. In an ideal world, traditionalist conservatives in particular, should value decency and decorum. I wholeheartedly agree with this, but our world is not ideal and Russell Kirk is not on the ballot, and I am not sure Russell Kirk would be the right man for the job at this time even if he was.
Through much interaction with both sides, I am convinced that one of the primary things that divides conservatives who oppose Trump from conservatives who support him is where they view our current situation as being on this uncivilized vs. civilized spectrum. Do we live in a civilized society that just needs fine-tuning, something that could be accomplished by a man of conviction and principle like Ransom Stoddard, or do we live in an uncivilized society that needs a gunfighter like Tom Doniphon to do what has to be done to tame the land first before we can worry about principles? By the standards of the film, are we pre-statehood or post-statehood?
It is not a reach, I believe, to view Ted Cruz and many of his diehard supporters (and Rand Paul and his supporters) as having a mindset a lot like Stoddard’s, concerned about principles and technicalities like the Constitutional process, checking all the conservative boxes, keeping the ideological flame, etc. but not realizing that we now live in an uncivilized and in many ways lawless (some have called the current state of our country anarcho-tyranny) country where such things are as useful as Stoddard’s law books were against Valance. While Trump and many of his supporters have a mindset a lot like Doniphon’s, realizing they need to do what it takes to secure the country against hostiles they recognize do not play by the rules.
So who is right about where the country currently falls on this spectrum? A black sniper deliberately took out white police officers at a Black Lives Matter rally in Dallas, and the Megaphone blames it on guns and Donald Trump. A radical Muslim shoots up a gay nightclub in Orlando and the Megaphone blames it on guns, Donald Trump, and white Christians who encourage homophobia. Protestors carrying Mexican flags and promising to take America back for Mexico riot and attack peaceful Trump supporters outside a Trump rally in California, but Trump’s “incendiary” rhetoric is to blame. Blood runs through the streets of many of our major cities because the police have backed off and let chaos reign in what has been called the Ferguson Effect. Sixty-six people were shot in the city of Chicago over the July 4 weekend. Conservative speakers are forced to cancel appearances or are shouted down on college campuses by self-appointed Social Justice Warriors who then demand safe spaces if a conservative actually manages to speak. Students at a venerable, top tier Southern University, one of my alma maters, demand counseling because someone wrote Trump’s name on the sidewalk in chalk. Christians are forced to bake wedding cakes against their conscience. People with college degrees work at Starbucks, live with their parents, and put off marriage and procreation because they can’t find a decent middle class job in the new 21st Century economy our elites have foisted on us. Employees at Disney are forced to train their foreign replacements fraudulently brought in on work visas. I could go on.
Anti-Trump conservatives, you need to wake up. Wagging your finger at the enemy about the Constitution is going to be as effective as Stoddard pointing at his law books was in his battle against Valance. You don’t live in 1950s America anymore or even Ronald Reagan’s America. You don’t live in Stoddard’s East. You live in Doniphon’s Wild West. Your enemies don’t care about or play by your rules. Like Valance and his gang, they see you as an impediment they just want out of their way. All your tidy little principles will not mean a thing if the country turns permanently Blue from immigration and there is no middle class left to hold up the whole edifice because our manufacturing base has been decimated by globalist trade deals. The Constitution is already virtually a dead letter, but it will be completely dead if America stays on its current trajectory and becomes a third world country. I cannot tell you how many times I have wanted to scream at the computer screen, “Would you please watch The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance!” when engaging Cruz supporters, Rand supporters and other anti-Trumpers.
Now is not the time to box check your conservative list. Now is not the time to hand-wring about decorum. You live in an uncivilized and hostile environment that wants you out of the way, literally and figuratively. You can box check your list or use Emily Post as your standard for judging a candidate after the realm has been secured, but not before. The current times do not call for a Ransom Stoddard. They call for a Tom Doniphon. I’m not making any promises about how successful a Trump presidency will be, but he’s the closest candidate to a Tom Doniphon we have right now. A lot of the issues with his persona and demeanor that his critics complain about are a feature of the kind of candidate we need at this time, not a bug. Anti-Trumpers please note, the enemy didn’t blame the “toxic” rhetoric of Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, or Rand Paul for the recent reign of chaos. They blamed Donald Trump. They know who their real enemy is. So should you.
Since the NeverTrump forces have so far failed to attract a credible movement conservative-approved independent challenger to run against Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in the general election, their focus seems to have shifted toward an effort to nominate someone other than Trump at the Republican National Convention in July. This has been the steady drumbeat coming from such NeverTrump sources as RedState and Erick Erickson’s The Resurgent among many others.
This effort is transparently absurd. Some are making the case that all Republican delegates are technically unbound and/or that through sleight of hand with the Convention rules they could be unbound, despite the fact that some states bind them by law. I’m not here to make that argument one way or the other. It’s a technical issue that is best addressed by those who are intimately familiar with the process. My point is that a delegate coup is a childish fantasy that is not going to happen, barring some sort of epic meltdown by Trump, and would be incredibly counter-productive to NeverTrump’s supposed fidelity to conservatism if it did.
First of all, there will certainly be plenty of true believers among the delegates, but the delegate selection process generally skews toward selecting party people who are team players and have paid their dues. You just aren’t going to get a sufficient number of them to agree to pull off an act this audacious. So far, the effort seems more virtual than real. A lot of very similar stories about a potential coup have appeared at various mainstream and conservative outlets, and it is backed by some high profile movement conservatives, but it is not clear that there are actually a lot of ground troops ready to put the plan into action.
In the unlikely event that the NeverTrumpers succeed with their plan, the results would be disastrous. One of the primary justifications offered by the NeverTrump chorus for wanting to do something that is unprecedented in the modern political era is that Trump is potentially headed for a big loss in November and threatens to cost the Republicans several Senate and House seats as well, but this reason is nonsense. Even if, for the sake of the argument, you concede that scenario to be true, the idea that pulling off a Convention coup and nominating Ted Cruz or whoever else in place of Trump would then result in victory in November is ridiculous. Like it or not, Trump won the nomination fair and square. The NeverTrumpers had the whole primary season to present their anti-Trump case, which they vehemently did. GOP primary voters were not persuaded. A coup that blatantly subverts the clearly expressed will of Republican primary voters would rightly outrage Trump supporters and fair minded people alike. Such a move would implode the party and spell disaster for its candidates in November and possibly indefinitely.
If electoral success was really their concern, they would have Trump’s back against a relentlessly hostile Establishment, or if they just couldn’t bring themselves to do that, at the least they would lay off him. I don’t concede that Trump is going to lose in November, but if he does it will be partially because both the naturally hostile liberal Establishment and its organs and conservative forces that should have been on his side combined to vilify him. The NeverTrump people are not stupid, so surely they recognize the circular logic of bemoaning what a general election disaster they think Trump will be while simultaneously excoriating him just as vigorously as any liberal.
If there are sincere NeverTrumpers who just can’t bring themselves to back Trump because he doesn’t precisely check all their conservative boxes or they just can’t countenance his temperament and demeanor, then they should do the honorable and logical thing and support the Constitution Party nominee, Darrell Castle. Why aren’t Erickson, the whiners at RedState, et al endorsing Castle, instead of having a tantrum? This is what idealists whose chosen candidate doesn’t win the primary do, they either get behind the nominee of their party or they vote third party. There is an unmistakable sore loser element to the NeverTrump convention coup scenario.
Also, these supposed keepers of the true conservative flame appear to believe that the best way to take down Trump is to assume the role of PC righthink enforcers and parrot cultural Marxist talking points like a bunch of teenage Social Justice Warriors on tumblr. Some of the stuff at RedState and The Resurgent is indistinguishable from what you find at Salon or Slate. Racist blah blah misogynist blah blah xenophobe blah blah bigot blah blah. Seriously? What’s next? Are they going to be calling for safe spaces and trigger warnings lest Trump and his yahoo supporters offend their oh so sensitive PC sensibilities? Has anyone asked Erick Erickson what his preferred pronoun is? We wouldn’t want to offend him. It would all be comical if it wasn’t so craven and counter-productive. If these so-called conservatives actually believe that it serves conservatism well to advance the cultural Marxist narrative of their enemy, then they are fools. If they are just piling on in whatever way possible, then they are craven opportunists. Do not expect me to take seriously the professed conservatism of people who write as if they have cribbed their rhetoric from a SPLC fundraising letter.
As I have pointed out before, the most conspicuous element of the NeverTrump chorus is not Republican Party Establishmentarians who have by and large come to terms with a Trump nomination even if they don’t like it. Instead, it is Conservative Inc. ideologues and stakeholders who have an interest in maintaining their Conservative Inc. fiefdom. Trump threatens them because his more populist and nationalist message is off script and has revealed the very tenuous hold that by the books movement conservative dogma actually has on regular GOP voters. I don’t for a minute believe that NeverTrump is really about running an independent candidate who can win or orchestrating a Convention revolt that nominates someone other than Trump who will go on to victory in November, because these scenarios are too far-fetched for serious people to believe. This is about deliberately tanking Trump because they would rather punish Trump and his supporters for being off message and maintain control of their domain than they would defeat Hillary. I have no doubt that the more overtly globalist elements of the NeverTrump coalition, such as Bill Kristol and the boys at National Review, would actually much prefer Hillary’s status quo globalism to Trump’s “dangerous” nationalism, despite their pretense of also being NeverHillary. (It is because their loyalty is to globalism rather than conservatism that they won’t endorse the paleocon Constitution Party nominee.)
Truly sincere conservatives should not be deceived by this NeverTrump chicanery. Either bite the bullet and support Trump or back the Constitution Party nominee Darrell Castle, but don’t allow yourself to be used as pawns in someone else’s power play.
Over the Memorial Day weekend, prominent #NeverTrump leader Bill Kristol tweeted that they had an “impressive” candidate with a “real chance” poised to launch a movement conservative approved independent challenge to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in the general election. The NeverTrumpers have taken to calling their efforts the Renegade Party, although they are less a party in the political sense than they are in the sense of being a faction.
Kristol has now confirmed that that potential candidate is National Review writer David French. Despite some happy face NeverTrump cheerleading, the response to this news has been, shall we say, underwhelming. French is not without some impressive credentials. He is a Harvard Law School grad (which is a huge plus with the kind of elitists behind NeverTrump), an Iraqi War vet, and the author of several books in addition to his writing gig at National Review. The only problem is, no one outside political obsessive circles has heard of him.
I am not a credentialist, especially with regard to third party candidates, so I’m not going to belittle Mr. French’s qualifications for the office of President. If he is thirty five years old and a natural born citizen, then he has all the qualifications he is required by the Constitution to have. In fact, I was in the process of writing a snarky article suggesting that Kristol was aiming too high in looking for a sitting Senator or Governor or other prominent reasonably current politician, and that he should lower his sights and go after a pundit when news of French’s potential candidacy broke. I was even going to suggest that if Kristol was so concerned that there be a neocon approved alternative in November, then perhaps he should consider running himself. The working title of this piece was Welcome to Third Party Land Mr. Kristol. It is now obsolete.
While I’m not going to bash Mr. French’s qualifications lest my words come back to bite me if I am ever touting a third party candidate in the future, I will comment on what his selection says about the state of NeverTrump. On a post on another site where I write under my occasional nom de internet of Red Phillips, I predicted that the candidate would either be a pundit, a general, or an ex-politician who has been out of the game for a while. No active politician or person with much to lose was going to sign up for Kristol’s suicide mission and make himself a pariah with much of the Republican Party and the butt of everyone’s jokes. My guess was that the candidate was going to be conservative pundit Erick Erickson. I was not far off. What French’s selection indicates is that no “big name” was willing to step up so one of the NeverTrump brainchildren had to take one for the team. French is a step down in notoriety from Erickson even, who is a fairly well known quantity in conservative circles.
Despite Mr. French’s lack of name recognition with the general public, those of us who have been following the NeverTrump effort, which are probably just as likely to be Trump supporters as Trump detractors, are familiar with Mr. French. He is one of a group of writers at National Review, that includes Kevin Williamson, David Harsanyi, Jay Nordlinger, and French himself, among others, who have devoted themselves obsessively to railing against Donald Trump. One of his more memorable efforts was a whiny piece protesting (way too much) the characterization of Donald Trump as an alpha male which I already commented on in my Real Men For Trump article.
Despite protests that it is about conservative purity or Trump’s temperament and demeanor, NeverTrump is really about keeping the Republican Party safe for the favored policies of the globalist, transnational elite–relatively open borders, “free” trade deals and a meddlesome internationalist foreign policy–against the rising tide of populist nationalism that the Trump-inspired rebellion in the Heartland represents. If it was really about conservative purity, then the NeverTrumpers would do the logical thing and get behind and work for the only “more conservative” third party of any national prominence, the Constitution Party and its nominee, Darrell Castle.
I have previously divided Trump’s “conservative” critics into two types. Those who recognize that this is what NeverTrump is really about but talk in conservative movement speak to keep the rubes in line. In other words, shills. And those who do not recognize that this is what NeverTrump (and, really, movement conservative/neoconservative ideology and dogma in general) is all about. In other words, useful idiots. There is a certain earnestness to French’s anti-Trump pleas that made me until now think that maybe he just was not that smart and fell in the useful idiot category. Now that I realized he went to Harvard Law School and has written academic books on British warfare among other esoteric topics, I see that my assessment was off. He could not have graduated from Harvard Law and not recognize the keeping “conservatism” and the GOP safe for globalism aspect of the NeverTrump hysteria. Therefore, he is a shill. He is just a particularly convincing one.
There is a part of me that almost feels sorry for Mr. French. He is like the no name actor who is picked to play some big role whose selection is then panned by critics and fans alike. He is clearly taking one for the team. My instinct is still to ask why Billy Boy did not step up. He is over thirty five and was born in New York and even went to Harvard. What is holding him back? But French already publicly emasculated himself when he wrote his afore mentioned pathetic beta male protest that “Trump really isn’t an alpha male,” so what dignity does he have left to preserve anyway? May the French Revolution continue to underwhelm.
Many rightish critics of our current political state of affairs assert that modern mass democracy does not breed true statesmen, and some of them point to the success of Donald Trump as a case in point. (I say sincere rightish critics because globalist donor class shills masquerading as movement conservatives who are critical of Trump, such as Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney, Bill Kristol, the boys at National Review, et al, are not sincere.) And these sincere critics are certainly right. This point deserves separate elaboration, but suffice it to say that the suite of traits that make for a good campaigner in our modern democracy, especially at the national level, do not necessarily make for a good leader, and are even potentially antagonistic to each other. The current occupant of the Oval Office, who is a master campaigner but a lousy leader, is an excellent illustration of this.
I would suggest, in addition, that while modern mass democracy does not select for statesmen, neither does it select for men with traditional masculine virtues. Here’s a test. Think of all the national politicians you can. Which ones would you want on your side in a bar fight? I would take on 10 men if I had the late Jim Traficant, may God rest his soul, on my side, but what modern politician would inspire that sort of confidence? Are you charging into a bar fight with Bobby Jindal backing you up? John Kasich? Jeb Bush is a big fella, but would you want him by your side against a couple of bikers? Controlling for age, Chris Chrsitie, Rudy Giuliani and Peter King come to mind, but not many others, and it’s probably no coincidence that the latter two are ethnics. In fact, I think a lot of Christie’s early appeal, before he fell from grace with the bridge scandal, related to the fact that he’s scrappy and not a typical plastic glad-handing pol.
Modern society is becoming increasingly feminized and sexually androgynous. Walk into a mall in Anywhere, USA and look around. Where are the manly men? Studies have even demonstrated that testosterone levels in men are falling.
Enter Donald Trump. The appeal of Donald Trump surely has a lot to do with a visceral, instinctual reaction to this societal feminization. Even the Trump haters at National Review recognize this aspect of Trump’s appeal because they published this textbook example of protesting too much in response. Our friends in the manosphere have pegged Trump as a classic alpha male, and in many senses he is. Trump’s apparent sensitivity to slights perhaps comes into play in evaluating his “alphaness,” but whatever one may say about his alphaness, he is unmistakably a man. Watch him enter a room. The swagger is palpable. He walks in knowing he owns the room.
Trump’s unique list of celebrity endorsers demonstrates this “real man” angle to his appeal. As a way to needle Trump critics, I have been posting on social media every time a particularly masculine celebrity endorses Trump, but beyond me rubbing it in to the supporters of other candidates, it is easy to spot a real meaningful trend here. The list is pretty impressive. Celebrities (description attached for those that might be a bit more obscure) who have endorsed or said positive things about Trump include (in no particular order):
- Kevin Nash (professional wrestler)
- Adrien Broner (boxer)
- Lou Holtz
- Bobby Knight
- Gene Simmons
- Jimmy Buffett
- Bruce Willis
- Clint Eastwood
- Jean-Claude Van Damme
- Nick Mangold (offensive lineman)
- Pete Rose
- Johnny Damon (MLB)
- John Voight
- Rudy Giuliani
- Mark Martin (NASCAR Driver)
- Holly Holm (OK, not a man but she counts for the purposes of this list)
- Herschel Walker
- John Daly
- Chael Sonnen (UFC fighter)
- Kid Rock
- Tito Ortiz (UFC fighter)
- Jimmy McMillian (The Rent Is Too Damn High Party guy)
- Paul Teutul, Sr. (Orange County Choppers)
- John Rocker
- Sheriff Joe Arpaio
- Tim Allen
- Sylvester Stallone
- Tom Brady
- Dana White
- Robert Davi (actor)
- Chuck Yeager
- Mike Tyson
- Larry the Cable Guy
- Hulk Hogan
- Aissa Wayne (daughter of John Wayne, again not a man but important for the point of this list)
- Jesse James (West Coast Choppers)
- Stephen Baldwin
- Gary Busey
- Dennis Rodman (yes, I know about that picture in a dress)
- Lou Ferrigno (body builder, The Hulk)
- Ted Nugent
- Willie Robertson (Duck Dynasty)
- Jesse Ventura
- Charlie Sheen
- Mike Ditka
- Terrell Owens
- Wayne Allen Root (columnist, Libertarian VP nominee in 2008)
- Scott Baio
- Fred Williamson (actor, football player)
- Clay Buchholtz (pitcher)
- Bill Elliot (NASCAR driver)
- Chase Elliot (NASCAR driver)
- Ted DiBiase (professional wrestler)
- Richie Incognito (NFL lineman)
- Jerry Lawler (professional wrestler)
- Shawne Merriman (NFL linebacker)
- Ryan Newman (NASCAR driver)
- Digger Phelps (basketball coach)
- Chris Weidman (UFC)
- Latrell Sprewell (NBA)
- Meisha Tate (UFC Women’s Champion [for the record, Rhonda Rousey endorsed Bernie])
- Kevin Von Erich (professional wrestler)
- Lou Dobbs
- “Roosh” (manosphere writer)
- Dan Bilzerian (professional poker player)
- Alex Jones (radio host)
- Charlie Daniels
- Dean Cain (actor)
- Kurt Russell
- Curt Schilling
Whatever one may think of all the individuals on this list, there are no metrosexuals among them. Trump seems particularly popular with the NASCAR, professional wrestling, and UFC crowds. Hmmm… Compare this list to some of the manlets leading the #NeverTrump campaign – Senator Lindsey Graham, Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore and National Review writer Kevin Williamson come to mind.
As a traditionalist conservative, I too value statesmanship, but in political campaigns I believe that my fellow political obsessives and wonks can often get so wrapped up in the details that they miss the big picture. No, for those who value decorum and the sanctity of the process, Trump is not a statesman. And to all the conservative movement gatekeepers and box checkers, like many of those who backed Ted Cruz, he is not a by the books “conservative” as that term is currently (and erroneously) defined. But elections aren’t determined by obsessives and wonks like us. They are determined by actual voters. They are rarely about the fine print. They are about the Gestalt, the meta. And with Trump, this meta is not just policy. It’s also aesthetic, and part of the Trump aesthetic is clearly push back against the increasing feminization and hostility to masculinity that is degrading our culture. This reaction is largely visceral, not rational, but it’s healthy nonetheless and undeniably conservative in a more basic sense of the term. Recognize it and work with it. Don’t fight it. Don’t let the details put you on the wrong side of the big picture.
In the past few years I have noticed an increase in the use of the term “constitutional conservative”, usually to describe a candidate or politician who is associated with the Tea Party or is otherwise generally considered more conservative by some degree. I have seen this term used a lot lately to describe Senator Ted Cruz, the recent winner of the Iowa caucus. Perhaps I am wrong, but I don’t recall this term being used much prior to a few years ago, which is why I noted it with some curiosity as it began to appear more frequently. Jack Hunter also notes the newness of the term in this article from 2012.
Presumably, a constitutional conservative is one who believes the U.S. Constitution should be strictly interpreted and abided by as originally intended by the Framers. Quaint notion, I know, but what confuses me about the sudden appearance of this term, is that there already exists a perfectly workable term to describe this political position. Such people have previously been called Constitutionalists.
Now it must be conceded that there is some room for confusion here, because almost every pundit and politician believes or at least pretends to believe that the policies he promotes are within the bounds of the Constitution. Few American politicians announce their intentions to willfully ignore the Constitution or articulate any qualms with the Constitution. Both opponents and advocates of gun control, for example, generally believe the Constitution is on their side. The same is true of the abortion issue and on and on, but issues-activists don’t usually describe themselves as Constitutionalists either. Even people and organizations who place a particular emphasis on the Constitution, such as the ACLU, are not commonly called and don’t self-describe as constitutionalists. ACLU types might call themselves civil libertarians, for example, and they come to conclusions regarding the Constitution that are quite at odds with people who identify as Constitutionalists.
Despite some opportunity for confusion, “Constitutionalist” has over time come to mean a pretty specific set of beliefs, especially among people who identify themselves as such and use it to favorably describe others. Constitutionalists believe that the Constitution should be interpreted and followed as originally intended by those who wrote and ratified it. They reject the idea that the Constitution is a “living and breathing” document. Unless it has been specifically amended otherwise, they believe, the Constitution means now exactly what it meant in 1787 – 1789.
For the Constitutionalist, the Constitution is not primarily a document that outlines what the federal government can’t do, but is rather a document strictly describing what the federal government is authorized to do. The sine qua non of Constitutionalism is the belief in “enumerated powers” which flows from the determination that this was the intent of the Framers and state ratifying conventions. Along with this belief in enumerated powers, there are other beliefs that generally travel together, some to a greater or lesser degree. Constitutionalists reject the broad interpretation of the Commerce Clause and the General Welfare Clause. They reject judicial supremacy with regard to who has the “final say” in interpreting the Constitution, and some reject the practice of judicial review outright. (This is a bit of an intra-constitutionalist feud.) Constitutionalists do not automatically defer to the most recent Supreme Court decision to settle the constitutionality of a matter because they believe many such decisions are in error since they were not reached by originalist methods. Rather, they appeal to the original intent of the Framers each time a Constitutional question arises. They reject “incorporation”, meaning they don’t believe the Bill of Rights was originally intended to be applied to the states, and most reject that this was the original intent of the 14th Amendment as well. Constitutionalists also tend to be open to the idea of state nullification and interposition and even secession as remedies for an overreaching federal government.
These beliefs can be, especially when taken as a whole, rather jarring to the modern consciousness which has come to accept the conventional wisdom on such matters. Nevertheless, they represent a consensus that serious Constitutional thinkers arrive at by the consistent application of the originalist methodology.
So how do so-called “Constitutional conservatives” differ from Constitutionalists proper? My hunch from the start has been that its original popularizers wanted a term that invokes the good feelings most people and especially conservatives have for the Constitution without all the baggage associated with “Constitutionalist”, which has truly radical implications by modern standards, and this appears to be how the word is generally used. I searched “define constitutional conservative” and what I found were a lot of vague invocations of Constitutional “principles” and other general principles (fiscal responsibility for example) with very little explanation of how the Constitution was any more than a totem in this formulation. One article revealed by my search introduced the concept and then proceeded to define it by quoting…the Declaration of Independence? (The article did, however, confirm my impression that this is a term of relatively recent origin.)
Constitutional conservatives seem to cherry-pick their application of strict constructionist principles to suit their needs. They invoke the Constitution to oppose the Obamacare mandate, for example, but are seemingly untroubled by the fact that a similar argument could be made against Medicare and Medicaid, the FDA, etc. I don’t require that every candidate I support fall on his sword by inveighing against Medicare and the FDA or whatever on enumerated powers grounds. Dismantling the 80 – 90% +/- of the federal government that isn’t actually constitutionally authorized isn’t politically or logistically feasible at this time, but I do ask that if the Constitution is invoked to describe your politics, you not rhetorically concede the Constitutional legitimacy of such programs.
The aforementioned Ted Cruz and his supporters demonstrate well this disconnect between Constitutional conservative and Constitutionalist. For example, if you want me to take seriously your claim to the title “Constitutional conservative”, you have to at least attempt to address the eligibility question from an originalist perspective. You can’t cite current law or a recent court case or conventional wisdom and pronounce the matter settled. While I think there is a growing consensus among serious originalists that Cruz is not eligible, an originalist case can arguably be made that he is, but you at least have to attempt to make that case. The original intent of the Framers with regard to the “natural born citizen” requirement seems not to have even occurred to many Cruz supporters I have interacted with, and they often seem perturbed by the mere suggestion that they need to address it. Perhaps if you want me to accept your professed devotion to the Constitution, maybe you shouldn’t swear your fidelity to a far off foreign country in your rather ungracious Iowa victory speech. Where the heck is standing with Israel in the United States Constitution?
So far as I can tell, Ted Cruz isn’t even trying to represent the original intent of the Constitution or the spirit of the American Founders.
One of the raps against Donald Trump frequently trotted out by some of his conservative critics, often supporters of one of the more traditional conservative candidates, is that he is not really a conservative. Some even call him a liberal. Yet despite this charge, Trump continues to gain the support of prominent conservatives whose conservative credentials it is difficult to impugn.
For example, Trump recently garnered the support of former congressman Virgil Goode, who was the 2012 Presidential nominee of the Constitution Party. It’s hard to question the conservative credentials of a Constitution Party Presidential nominee. He has also landed the endorsement (or virtual endorsement) of prominent conservative scholar William Lind. Lind is a leading theorist of the concept of Fourth Generation warfare, and is arguably the primary person responsible for the increased recognition of the phenomenon of cultural Marxism that besets our modern discourse. Trump has also been endorsed by longtime conservative movement stalwart, Phyllis Schlafly, whose conservative credentials need no elaboration. I could go on, but this should suffice to illustrate my contention.
So is Trump a conservative, and if not, why is he racking up support from notable conservatives and continuing to dominate polls of potential Republican Party voters? Well, the answer is both yes and no. It depends on what you mean by conservative, but I believe Trump is a conservative in the most meaningful sense.
I attempted to explain Trump’s politics in a couple of past essays. His politics are really not as inscrutable as some believe. They just don’t fit tidily into our current Red and Blue boxes. Briefly, the key to understanding Trump’s politics is to focus on his economic nationalism. This has been a part of his rhetoric since he first became a public figure in the 1980s and is undoubtedly authentic. But Trump appears to view this as a common sense, tough minded position, not an ideological one. It is important to recognize that Trump is not an ideologue. His focus is on getting things done, and he is results-oriented. While he has long flirted with politics, he has not historically immersed himself in the conservative milieu, nor the liberal milieu for that matter. He has clearly tailored some of his current positions to fit the base of the party whose nomination he is seeking, such as gun control and abortion, but he has never donned the mantle of purist crusader for laissez-faire economics or government-slashing spending hawk because those positions would conflict with his economic nationalism and his focus on outcomes rather than pure principle.
Consider, for example, Trump’s past support of universal health care, a position often raised by his conservative critics. This was not likely a position he arrived at based on an ideological commitment to liberalism because that wouldn’t fit the known pattern. Rather it likely was an extension of his patriotic economic nationalism, something along the lines of “A great country like America can have a great health care system that takes care of all its citizens.” Remember that before the Affordable Care Act, universal coverage per se polled well. People just don’t seem to like the details when you attach a name to it, like HillaryCare or ObamaCare. The point being that Trump’s position on universal health care was likely not evidence of an ideological liberal disposition, but rather a roll-up-our-sleeves-and-get-it-done outcome based approach. What the conservative box checkers need to understand is that a lot of the electorate is similarly non-ideological. They may lean one way or the other and viscerally identify with the Blue Team or the Red Team, but they are not dogmatic ideologues.
Trump’s positions and rhetoric place him firmly in the category of Middle American Radical (MAR), as are many of his supporters. He just happens to also be a billionaire. MARs are a well described and relatively large demographic. It’s curious that so many journalist and pundits have missed this relationship and are still struggling to characterize Trump. Liberal columnist Ezra Klein was one of the first to pick up on Trump’s particular policy mix in this article he wrote for Vox, about which I thought at the time, “In other words, what (late conservative columnist) Sam Francis was saying 20 years ago.” Liberal John Judis expanded on the idea in this essay for the National Journal. Judis cannot resist a little PC finger wagging, but beyond that it is an insightful piece. Of interest, I was informed by someone who was familiar with the relationship that John Judis and Sam Francis were friends despite their political differences, so this may be a reason for Judis’ insights.
As a MAR, his conservative critics are correct that Trump is not your typical cookie cutter “three-legs-of-the-stool” modern conservative ideologue, but the problem for them is that what modern conservatism has become is generally a mishmash of policy positions that are often internally contradictory and as a whole have very little to do with actually conserving anything. The MAR position of opposition to mass immigration and opposition to international “free” trade deals, for example, both of which Trump has seized upon with great success, are more conservative in actual effect, in the most basic sense of the word, than is any amount of babbling about the “invisible hand” of the marketplace and cutting marginal tax rates. Trump’s supporters sense this. “Make America Great Again,” is an inherently conservative, reactionary really, sentiment. It speaks of loss for the worse and a need to restore.
As Russell Kirk reminded us, conservatism is not an ideology or hodgepodge of policy issues. Rather, it is a disposition, the desire to conserve what is or else restore something that has been lost. The angry masses in Flyover Country who are supporting Trump look around and see middle class manufacturing jobs going south of the border or overseas and their neighborhoods changing from mass immigration, more people they and their children and their children’s children will have to compete with for jobs, and they want it to stop. Contrast this to Rep. Paul Ryan’s foolish statement that Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim immigration “is not conservatism.” Well, actually, yes it is. What is not conservatism is throwing open the doors of your country to masses of new dissimilar immigrants, including groups that are known to be hostile to us. Only a muddle-headed modern conservative ideologue could miss which one of these positions expresses a truly conservative sentiment.
With the rise of Trump, this election has taken on a meta dimension that it otherwise wouldn’t have had. Partisan stakeholders always attempt to cast every Presidential election as a crossroads, perhaps the starkest in history, but in truth we only really have a choice between Elitist Globalist Neoliberal A and Elitist Globalist Neoliberal B. Trump represents something truly unique in recent elections. He offers a real choice between the elitist post-national consensus embraced by the Establishment of both parties, and a patriotic economic nationalism that truly challenges this elite consensus.
So yes, Trump is a conservative in the sense that really matters. He wants to conserve and restore the nation state of America and not stand by as it turns into just another post-national administrative unit ruled by a globalist power elite. Virgil Goode, William Lind, and Phyllis Schlafly and many other conservative luminaries clearly get this. The conservative box checkers who are ticking off Trump’s fidelity to some laundry list of policy positions are missing the forest for the trees. They are on the verge of losing their country while they hand-wring about eminent domain.
Prominent conservative scholar Charles Murray has caused quite a bit of consternation on social media with his seemingly highly personal Facebook and Twitter crusade against Donald Trump. I suspect many people are not taking Murray’s opposition to Trump well because they don’t view Murray, who got in PC hot water for his book The Bell Curve, as your typical PC signaling think tank denizen and therefore, expect different from him.
Angry people make angry accusations, so many were quick to accuse Murray of signaling to his fellow AEI scholars and the rest of the respectable set, that, while capable of wrongthink, he is not far enough off the ranch to support Trump. I don’t know for certain that Murray is not signaling this, but I think his opposition to Trump can be understood based on another dimension. I believe this because I have observed the same tendency in others who policy wise seemingly have reasons to be sympathetic to the Trump campaign.
Certain political commentators, of which Murray is an example, undertake their commentary in a very high minded and serious manner, and they likewise take the political process very seriously. For these folks, Trump, who does not play by the normal rules of decorum, is an affront to the process and should be opposed on those grounds alone. Opposition to Trump seems to be to them a defense of the very system, and if it signals anything it is this seriousness and respect for the process aspect as much as anything else.
This sort of visceral opposition to Trump could come from the left, the right or the center. I believe it reflects to some extent the old money vs. new money distinction, both actually and metaphorically. While Trump did not come from a poor family, his family wasn’t that rich, so Trump behaves like new money – the brashness, the ostentatiousness, the conspicuous consumption, etc. As I mentioned in another article, I think a lot of Trump’s presentation and appeal is that he is in essence just a guy from Queens who made good for himself, and who may still have a bit of a chip on his shoulder. Trump’s Flyover Country supporters see a kindred spirit who happens to be a billionaire, but for those significantly concerned with propriety, they see an intolerably boorish lout.
While this opposition could come from all points on the political spectrum, it presents a particular dilemma for high minded sorts of a traditionalist and conservative bent. Traditionalists and conservatives have always placed great emphasis on manners and codes of behavior, for good reason. Such things foster good order and are inherently conservative in the most basic sense of the word.
From this view, comments about your female opponent’s appearance or alleged references to your female antagonist’s bodily functions are ungentlemanly. Repeatedly calling people stupid or engaging in back and forth with your critics on Twitter is pedestrian and below the dignity of the process and the office he seeks.
Charles Murray’s opposition to Trump strikes me as primarily coming from this perspective. John Derbyshire attributed it to Murray’s “Midwestern niceness,” but herein lies the disconnect between Murray and many of his usual fans.
Many of Trump’s supporters support him precisely because they no longer respect the process. They see the process as rigged and inherently hostile to them and their interests. For this reason, Trump’s brashness and willingness to say things the typical politician would not is not a liability, but an asset. While they don’t necessarily value rudeness, they’ll tolerate it or even consider it a necessary evil, in light of the current state of affairs, and they positively value his combativeness and willingness to engage the enemy. When Trump supporters are questioned, they consistently cite this aspect of his presentation as a major reason for their support. Trump’s previous celebrity and sheer force of personality allow him to get away with saying things that ordinary political candidates cannot.
Contained in this disconnect, is another related dimension. Trump’s supporters tend to view the current situation as dire and near the point of no return. For them, opposing a candidate because he engages in Twitter battles is akin to fretting about the arrangement of deck chairs on the Titanic. For many Trump supporters, our dire situation requires extraordinary measures, not appeals to the sanctity of the system that got us here in the first place.
While I appreciate Murray’s and others’ support for traditional norms of behavior, as a Trump supporter, albeit a somewhat nuanced one, I agree with my cohorts that it is much too late in the game to allow his at times less than decorous behavior to disqualify him. I would suggest that the process Murray et al are attempting to protect is no longer the sacrosanct process they suppose, but is in fact a largely rigged game of political theater. Perhaps what we need at this time is not a statesman but a performance artist who can engage the system on its own terms and maybe just beat the Powers That Be at their own game.
The late conservative columnist, Sam Francis, once quipped that the Democrat Party is the Evil Party and the Republican Party is the Stupid Party. This cannot be repeated often enough. The Republican Party has repeatedly demonstrated that it has no idea what is best for its continued viability and the people who actually vote for it.
The persistent problem with the Republican Party is that every election cycle it pitches to the besieged middle class in Middle America and then goes to Washington and does the bidding of donor class fat cats. The flyover country middle class has continued to go along with this game because in our alleged “two party” system at least the Republican Party pretends to like them. The Democrat Party on the other hand, which is historically supposed to be the party of the working man, long ago gave up the pretense of actually caring about the economic interests of or even liking flyover country yokels. Instead Democrats by and large see such yokels as a major part of the problem due to their Bible-clinging and gun-toting ways and status as bearers of some mystical privilege. But the masses can only be expected to put up with this dynamic for so long before they’ve had enough and demand change. This appears to be happening, yet the Republican Establishment scratches its collective head in befuddlement. “Why are the plebs so angry?”
What the success of the Donald Trump campaign should clearly demonstrate to the GOP leadership and its elected representatives if they are paying attention or care is that average Republican voters are not really motivated by the prospect of cuts in the marginal income tax rates of the rich. They believe the middle class is under siege from well-connected corporatists above and a permanent underclass below, and that the federal government works for the interests of both of these and against their own, and about this they are manifestly correct.
So how does the Republican Party respond to this disconnect? It elevates to the House Speakership a man, Paul Ryan, who is a virtual caricature of all that is wrong with the GOP, and I might add, it does so with the acquiescence of a lot of the “Freedom Caucus.” What? Was the Monopoly Man not available?
Donald Trump is resonating with the flyover base, much to the chagrin of the Establishment and their lackeys in the “conservative” punditocracy, on two issues in particular, immigration and trade. Both are near and dear to the heart of the base because both address two of the main things that have caused middle class fortunes to stagnate, economic globalization and the mass importation of cheap labor, both illegal and legal.
In the midst of this rebellion in the heartland, the Republican Party keepers of the flame insisted on anointing Paul Ryan as Speaker, after their original choice crashed and burned, but Ryan could not be more wrong on these two issues at the heart of the base’s uprising.
Ryan is a hard core amnesty supporter. By Republican standards he is an “extremist” on the issue. He also supports virtual open borders with regard to legal immigration, a policy that not only would perpetuate the problems of unemployment, underemployment and stagnant wages that already plague us, but would guarantee that the Republican Party will become a permanent minority party, virtually irrelevant on the national stage, within a few election cycles. Talk about the Stupid Party. Many of them appear to not be able to do basic math.
On globalist managed trade deals (To call them free trade deals is a scandalous misuse of language.), Ryan is again the worst of the worst. Ryan is not just a casual supporter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the legislative gimmickry of fast track that enabled it. He co-authored (along with faux populist Sen. Ted Cruz, I might add) a blatant piece of apologia for fast track and the TPP in the Power Elite … err I mean … Wall Street Journal before said power elite ramrodded the fast track abomination through Congress. Way to represent the peeps there, GOP.
What this shameful Ryan spectacle once again demonstrates is that the Republican Party is worse than worthless when it comes to representing the interests of the majority of people who actually vote for it. It’s recent history (since the ’60s +/-) has been to serve as a sort of safety valve to diffuse periodic fits of anger from the masses when they wake up and realize they are getting screwed. People of good will may differ on whether this means the Republican Party needs to be reformed or scrapped and replaced, but what should be obvious to all who are not beholden to the donor class is that the current situation is intolerable. I suspect that for now the one most helped by the Ryan debacle is Donald Trump.
The reaction of the ruling elite and their minions in official conservadom to the Donald Trump surge is best characterized as a hissy fit, an extended temper tantrum that the GOP base isn’t doing what they want them to. The elite and their gatekeepers can’t seem to figure out why Trump is surging and why the peons who support him won’t listen to their betters. What is more puzzling is why they didn’t see this coming and why it hasn’t happen sooner. The writing has been on the wall for a while.
Anyone who wants to understand the Trump phenomenon should read the book The Ruling Class: How They Corrupted America and What We Can Do About It by Angelo Codevilla. It was first published as a rather longish essay in the American Spectator magazine. It was so well received that American Spectator updated it, added an introduction by Rush Limbaugh and published it as a book.
At first glance, Codevilla perhaps seems like an unlikely candidate to write such a book. Arguably a member of the ruling class himself, he was first an influential government employee before moving on to the Hover Institute think tank and then to Boston University as a professor of international relations. With a Ph.D from the Claremont Graduate School and a history of foreign policy hawkishness, he was also perceived as at least somewhat neoconish. My impression is that he may have backed away from his hawkishness a bit in the last few years, but where exactly Codevilla stands on foreign policy is beyond the scope of this essay. Suffice it to say that regardless of Codevilla’s own shaky credentials as a pitchfork-wielding man of the people, his insights in the book ring true and are much appreciated.
Whether Codevilla intended it as such or not, The Ruling Class has been praised as a brilliant example of elite class analysis. According to Dr. Paul Johnson of Auburn University, elite theory suggests that:
American politics is best understood through the generalization that nearly all political power is held by a relatively small and wealthy group of people sharing similar values and interests and mostly coming from relatively similar privileged backgrounds. Most of the top leaders in all or nearly all key sectors of society are seen as recruited from this same social group, and elite theorists emphasize the degree to which interlocking corporate and foundation directorates, old school ties and frequent social interaction tend to link together and facilitate coordination between the top leaders in business, government, civic organizations, educational and cultural establishments and the mass media. This “power elite” can effectively dictate the main goals (if not always the practical means and details) for all really important government policy making (as well as dominate the activities of the major mass media and educational/cultural organizations in society) by virtue of their control over the economic resources of the major business and financial organizations in the country.
Well, you don’t say? This observation is a “no duh” to Trump supporters. A bear does what in the woods?
According to Codevilla, Democrat voters are much more satisfied with their party because they see it as serving their interests. On the other hand, Republican voters, who are mostly middle-class yokels in flyover country, are not happy with their party because they see it as asking them for votes every two years then promptly going to Washington and serving the interests of someone else, the primarily bi-coastal elite donor class.
For example, “Fast Track” trade legislation was recently rammed through Congress at the behest of the Chamber of Commerce set thanks to the yeoman efforts of Republican legislators to salvage it following a legislative setback. This was despite polling data and an overwhelmingly disproportionate number of calls, letters, and emails that indicated their base was extremely hostile to it. And then party leaders and Conservative Inc. gatekeepers scratch their heads and can’t figure out why some people are so angry and supporting Trump. Trump is the chickens coming home to roost.
I have no use for the Republican party leadership, but I don’t doubt that some of the conservative gatekeepers are well intentioned. Trump is not a check-all-the-boxes conservative to say the least, and he certainly says things that shock the sensibilities of small-government and free-market advocates. I’m sure many are sincere in their attempts to safeguard the Republican brand and conservatism as they understand it, but the gatekeepers too often come off as apologists for said fat cat elites, often to the point of parody. Unlike political hobbyists, most voters are not ideologues. Many people vote viscerally and appearances and general impressions matter to them. Which candidate really cares about me? If that’s the question for the angry GOP base, Trump crushes ¡Jeb!
It is not impossible to mix free-market orthodoxy with populism. Ron Paul was able to walk this fine line with some success. In fact, as Codevilla points out in The Ruling Class, popular sentiment has increasingly come to be characterized by “leave me alone and get out of my business” attitudes as the government has expanded and become more and more intrusive, but you can’t come off like the guy on the Monopoly board either. If the leadership of the Republican Party and Conservative Inc. want to reconnect with a base they are quickly losing, I suggest they pick up a copy of The Ruling Class, and give it a read. I doubt it will do much good, but maybe they won’t be so baffled.