Opinion

Twilight Of The Conservatives?

Scott Greer Contributor

National Review threw down the gauntlet when the illustrious publication declared — along with 22 other conservative notables — its total opposition to the candidacy of Donald Trump last week.

Arguing the businessman-turned-politician is a “menace to American conservatism,” the “symposium” of Trump discontent vowed conservatives could not in good faith support the Republican front-runner.

Considering National Review’s long-standing reputation as the brain trust of the conservative movement, the “Against Trump” issue dominated the news cycle last weekend and every pundit made sure to let people know how big of a deal the counter-endorsement was — especially with personalities like Glenn Beck and Thomas Sowell signing onto the effort. (RELATED: Conservative Intellectual Blasts National Review’s Trump Attack: It ‘No Longer Represents Real Conservatism’)

However, the impact on the campaign trail has so far been non-existent.

The attack was released nearly a week ago but it appears to have made no dent on Trump’s poll numbers. In fact, the brash New Yorker now boasts some of his highest numbers only a few short days away from the Iowa caucuses.

Granted, National Review’s proprietors stated the primary reason for publishing the issue wasn’t necessarily to derail Trump at the ballot box, but to “stand on principles.”

It also wasn’t too big of a shock for NR and Co. to make this statement. Since announcing he was running for the White House, big names on the Right have shown little love for The Donald.

The first article published by NR after Trump got into the race in June was titled, “Witless Ape Rides Escalator.”

Ignoring the mutual mud slinging between Trump and his conservative critics, the chief criticism of the presidential hopeful from the Right has always been that’s he’s a “fake conservative” and threatens all the great work of the conservative movement. National Review just reiterated those claims and put them all together for one mega-declaration of non-support.

But, increasingly, it’s seeming Republican voters don’t care Trump is not a conventional conservative. Even The Donald rarely identifies himself by that label, in contrast to all of his opponents who have draped themselves in conservatism throughout the primary — regardless of whether their respective records or policies are actually so.

Trump, on the other hand, simply appeals to national pride and identity, not abstract principles. Failing conservative purity tests doesn’t seem to upset him or his supporters.

Maybe the average Republican is no longer swayed by conservative purity tests. Maybe Rush Limbaugh is right that nationalism and populism are overtaking conservatism this election cycle. And maybe the real reason National Review issued its attack is not because Trump discards the principles shared by millions of average Americans, but because he threatens the privileged status of Beltway conservatism.

The Week’s Michael Brendan Dougherty smartly pointed out how the movement spearheaded by National Review is now the “establishment” in a Monday column.

Conservative institutions — their publications, think-tanks, and policy shops — are firmly embedded within the larger political class. The victory has been so-well established for so long that the literal children of the previous establishment will not stick up for it. George W. Bush ran as a conservative. Jeb Bush has ideologically been more enthusiastic for conservatism than his brother

If anyone within the large tent of the Republican Party qualifies as an establishment today, it is precisely the several-generations-old institutions of the conservative movement. What else would you call a group of well-funded salons whose conversations constantly return to the candidacies of Ronald Reagan (36 years ago) or Barry Goldwater (52 years ago)?

But while the movement which was forged by William F. Buckley and others has claimed this treasured status, they have failed to win over the disaffected working-class. In Dougherty’s opinion, “the conservative movement has done everything to say they manifestly do not care about the economic problems of these people.”

The right-leaning writer is hopeful that these institutions will right the course and do more to appeal to the coalition Trump is building with his candidacy. However, the conservative establishment appears to have no interest in doing anything like that.

A few days after issuing its anti-Trump manifesto, National Review published Kevin Williamson’s diatribe on how Trump’s followers can’t read. (This is the same writer, by the way, who penned the “Witless Ape” article.) Noted conservative heavyweight George Will has been adamant for months on how the people supporting The Donald don’t belong in the political process and are better left for the sewers. To top all the insults though, Republican media consultant Rick Wilson claimed last week that the majority of Trump’s support comes from “childless single men who masturbate to anime” and “are not people who matter in the overall course of humanity.”

The people Trump has gotten involved in politics are not the folks intended for all those great outreach efforts conservatives have been talking up ever since the day Mitt Romney lost the 2012 election.

What conservatism has become is not a dynamic movement which is capable to touching the hearts and minds of America but a rusted, entitled collective living entirely in an echo chamber. The same people who think all of Trump’s supporters live on 4chan are the same ones who think minorities will buy into the fiscal agenda of Paul Ryan if it’s delivered in compassionate Spanish.

Several prominent conservatives — including George Will and Bill Kristol — have vowed they will go third party if Trump is the Republican nominee. That’s a surefire way of cementing the political irrelevance of movement conservatism as few voters will follow and the conservatives who leave will lose all standing in the GOP. (RELATED: George Will Warns Of Conservative Third Party Candidate If Trump Wins GOP Nomination)

If leading conservatives hope to win over Trump’s coalition and maintain political relevancy, they have to come to grips with the harsh reality that many of the ideas bantered around the movement echo chamber for decades aren’t connecting with Middle America.

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