Trump: A ‘McCarthy Moment’—Or The New Goldwater?

(REUTERS/Chris Tilley)

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
Font Size:

Yesterday, on CNN’s Reliable Sources, I said this was “a time for choosing“—that where you stand on Trump today may define you for decades.

This, I think, deserves some further commentary.

As of today, I cannot—in good conscience—vote for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. In other words, this isn’t a binary choice. A lot of #NeverTrump conservatives may decide to simply stay home, rather than vote for Hillary Clinton or a third party. They are still publicly taking a public stand in what might well be a defining moment of our time.

It’s not clear who will come out looking good. That’s because there are no perfect analogies to draw from.

The Republicans who stuck with Barry Goldwater in 1964 (see Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan) fared much better than those who abandoned him (see George Romney). If this is your model, then even if Trump loses, he’s ushering in a new Republican Party—and (at least, in terms of your advancing your career)—you’d be well advised to hold your nose and support the party standard bearer.

But what if this isn’t 1964? What if that’s a false analogy? Instead, what if this is (as David Brooks has argued) a “Joe McCarthy moment?” If Trump is Joe McCarthy, then those who oppose him will be seen as heroic. What is more, they will be helping preserve a respectable (and untarnished) conservative movement in waiting.

You might disagree with either—or both—templates. But I think you’ll agree with me that this very well could be a defining moment—even if there is no historical analog.

Oliver Wendell Holmes said that “it is required of a man that he should share the passion and action of his time at peril of being judged not to have lived.” If nothing else, conservatives who are engaged in this debate cannot be judged to not have lived.

Taking a stand on Trump’s candidacy is gutsy and noble, precisely because it is high stakes and unpredictable.

Matt K. Lewis