It’s hard not to notice the level of vitriol from conservative think-tanks, pundits and white-collar conservatives, directed at Trump supporters. I mean, how can you support such a big government, socially liberal, build a wall, tariff supporting candidate?
Well, the answer is pretty simple. Trump supporters can because all those think-tanks, conservative media types and white-collar conservatives have failed to make their lives better. For the purposes of this article the individuals in these groups are what I characterize as the “intellectual conservative” movement.
It is perhaps the ultimate irony that the intellectual conservative movement, the movement that so despises Trump, actively fueled his rise. Their lack of understanding of not just the issues, but also the very voters who kept them in the halls of power, is personified by Trump’s rise.
Trump’s entire candidacy represents their failure and his success is their shame. The failure of intellectual conservatives is so complete that conservative voters did not just fall for a moderate to liberal nominee pedaling nationalism but also a nominee who barely put together a single, complete policy (minus build a wall and supporting tariffs against Mexico and Russia). In fact, Trump ran roughshod over Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, arguably the 2 candidates with the most detailed policy positions.
Indeed, the entire intellectual conservative moment, which was arguably founded by William F. Buckley, was based on on making the lives of the average American better. From Buckey’s original pieces to the writings of modern day Grand Masters like Charles Krauthammer, Pete Wehner and David Harsanyi, their ideas are centered around making the ideas of the average American better. Yet, none of their ideas have become reality.
But let’s back up for a second. Pundits and talking heads don’t have the power to enact policy. Like everybody else they can vote in the people they want and write their leaders, but they do not set policy nor direct it. But think-tanks can.
In the 60’s conservative think-tanks proliferated. Indeed, they fueled the rise of the right in the early 70’s and through the 1980’s. These think-tanks, some most cherished like the Heritage Foundation, the CATO Institute and the American Enterprise Institute, formed ideas of economic growth through deregulation and a robust investment in infrastructure. Voters responded by giving Reagan 2 terms and HW Bush a single term.
Fast-forward to today and you are forced to ponder what any of these thinks have done of late. Not even of late, but since the new millennium. Wages have been stagnant since Y2K, economic inequality has risen, fewer people of working age as a percentage are employed than at any time in history, Medicare and Social Security are unsustainable, health insurance premiums climb year over year and the debt is increasing every second of every day of every year. For all the laws that have been passed since 2000, none have solved any of these issues.
In answer to these vexing issues what has the intellectual conservative movement offered as a solution (crickets)? Nothing. While they may have ideas they do not seem to have a clue how to get them enacted. Indeed, when a conservative Republican actually wants to get one of these problems solved (be it Boehner or Ryan) they are attacked by the very movement that should be promoting their cause. Witness their response to the Doc Fix. Or Ryan’s long-term transportation bill. Both have a direct impact on the average American. But no, let’s quibble over $30 billion in a single year budget.
Certainly, it makes sense to debate the size of the US budget. Conservatives elected Republicans to trim the budget down to size. But the intellectual conservative movement forgets the world they live in is a world different than the average conservative.
The average conservative does not debate the merits of a Healthcare Co-op vs. allowing insurance companies to offer plans across state lines. Likewise, they don’t debate the finer points of a payroll tax cut vs. taxes on the rich. But, note a key variable here. The above are not purely left or right ideas. A Healthcare Co-op for certain individuals and higher taxes on the wealthy are left of center ideas. A payroll tax cut and allowing insurance companies to trade across state lines are right-wing ideas.
Now compare this to the world of an intellectual conservative. They probably qualify as having a white-collar profession, have time to debate the finer points of Healthcare policy and have the luxury of not being impacted by an overburdened Medicare or healthcare system.
In this is the beauty of Trump’s appeal. Yes, it has nationalistic overtones and the bombastic style of the candidate is a turnoff. But, when he talks about a set of concrete ideas voters can picture he actually manages to have more credibility than the intellectual conservative movement does.
It does not matter that none of these ideas will come to fruition. There will not suddenly be tariffs against Mexico. We won’t build a wall on the border. We won’t halt immigration for Muslims or establish a database of their whereabouts. Rather, Trump is an expression of the average conservative’s frustration.
At this point to the average conservative ideology is not a major factor. Sure, it is to the intellectual conservative (you can’t raise taxes on the wealthy), and younger conservatives brought up to believe it is heresy to suggest otherwise (I was canned for saying this at Red Millennial). But not to the majority of conservatives (who support Trump).
The failure of intellectual conservatives to understand this fact is compounded by their incredulity that the average conservative could support Trump. The #Nevertrump movement is full of intellectual conservatives. But this just shows they have left the conservative rank and file behind. Conservatives are so desperate for somebody to fight for them that they are overlooking ideological loyalty.
Consider the numerous issues that Trump has broken with ideology on and it has cost him little, if any, support. On infrastructure spending, Trump laments the despairing state of America’s infrastructure. On taxes, he supports hikes on millionaires. Gay marriage, so what? Abortion, I don’t like it but I won’t fight over it. He stated such themes numerous times over the course of the primary and he only grew stronger. True believers like Ted Cruz, Rick Perry and Scott Walker fell by the wayside.
Whereas the intellectual right is shocked that Trump could win a campaign with these views the average conservative (myself included) is not. It makes sense to secure the border (sorry big business). We don’t need to fight endless wars overseas for little or no return. We don’t need to endlessly re-litigate gay marriage.
But where the intellectual movement has failed the worst is culturally. Intellectual conservatives carry cosmopolitan values on issues like LBGT rights and religious liberty. They seem shocked conservatives are worried over bathrooms and religious liberty. Due to their shock perhaps. Trump has filled the vacuum by promising to fight against government overreach forcing people to violate their religious beliefs or letting the Department of Education bully school districts into compliance with veiled threats of withdrawing funding.
It goes without saying that an entire book could be written on how the intellectual conservative movement has failed conservatives. The refusal of them to acknowledge this fact has only added fuel to the fire. Ultimately, it led to Trump’s rise and could easily lead to the party conservatives call home becoming inhospitable to the intellectual movement.