Trumpism is currently the dominant force on the Right and it will influence conservatism for years to come.
The fissures at CPAC only reinforced this fact last week.
Several conservative pundits denounced the conference for inviting French nationalist Marion Marechal-Le Pen to speak, and one of those critics, Mona Charen, voiced her opposition to that move while speaking at CPAC. The crowd didn’t take kindly to those comments.
Similarly, the crowd booed a speaker who claimed Mexican immigrants were natural Republicans — a well-worn conservative cliche that has little basis in reality.
Anti-Trump conservative pundits bemoaned the general state of CPAC for being too pro-Trump and an overall embarrassment to its allegedly glorious past.
On the positive side for these folks, Commentary’s Noah Rothman saw Charen’s outburst at CPAC as a sign there’s a growing conservative “insurrection” against Trumpism.
But Never Trumpers are more like a government-in-exile for a country that neither misses them nor wants them back. The people propping them up are liberals in the media, not out of respect for their conservative “principles,” but out of shared animosity for Trump.
There’s little taste for intransigent Trump critics among rank-and-file conservatives. One can tell that by the boos Charen received and the disappearance of George Will and others from Fox News. The president’s approval rating among self-identified Republicans sits at a comfortable 86 percent, an intimidating figure for any would-be primary challenger.
When Trump ran for president, there was no shortage of Republican lawmakers relishing the chance to criticize him. Now the only two who like to do so are outgoing Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake — who has an 18 percent approval rating among his constituents — and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a 2020 hopeful. (RELATED: Jilted Never Trumpers Want You To Care They’re Losing)
The rest prefer to keep their concerns muted or have turned into enthusiastic supporters for the president.
The one Republican who may have ran a serious NeverTrump campaign in 2018 had that chance dashed last week.
Just a few days before CPAC, Trump endorsed his old nemesis Mitt Romney in his bid for the Utah senate, a surprise announcement the former Massachusetts governor greeted — publicly, at least — with enthusiasm.
It was an odd turn of events considering the 2012 Republican presidential nominee started his whole campaign out with not-so subtle swipes at Trump for sending “immigrants a message of exclusion” and his many attacks on the president since assuming office.
The great Never Trump campaign can no longer assume such a title after the endorsement. Yes, Trump really didn’t have any other option, but the early endorsement and warm reception from Romney negates any appearance the former Republican presidential nominee is running against the leader of his own party.
Whatever further criticism Romney may deliver against Trump, it will seem rather phony. Kinda like Mitt hitting the president on immigration when his own stance isn’t much different.
It makes for good press to be always on the offensive against Trump, but it doesn’t help the party or its agenda. That’s something that Romney appears to realize.
New York Times columnist Bret Stephens admitted in a Thursday article he and his fellow anti-Trump conservatives are not a major political force in the GOP, but he tried to make up for that deficiency by arguing Never Trumpers are comparable to dissidents in communist countries.
“The Trumpers (and Stalinists) traded conscience for power; the NeverTrumpers and dissidents chose the reverse,” Stephens writes. “Conscience can be made to suffer, but in the end it usually wins.”
The Times columnist believes that his side will eventually triumph because their principles are so righteous and noble. The problem with that idea is that Americans — Republican, Democrat and independent — all experienced these terrific ideas during the presidency of George W. Bush, and they rejected them.
An agenda of aggressive foreign interventionism, free market absolutism and open borders is only desired by an elite constituency. The only people who see the proponents of this ideology as courageous dissidents are the proponents themselves.
“We built and organized this party — but now we’re made to feel like interlopers,” Mona Charen complained in her Times op-ed on CPAC, underscoring how these critics aren’t quite scrappy dissidents. They previously had influence and considered themselves leaders of the conservative movement — now they’re bitter at the loss of status.
Many of these oh-so principled conservatives haven’t even stuck to their views in the wake of liberal admiration. Stephens recently wrote an argument for repealing the Second Amendment, even though he was a fan of gun rights before he went to The Times. The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin has reversed herself on numerous positions, while still claiming she’s a true principled conservative.
These are the just the things the very principled have to sacrifice in order to appease their new liberal fans. Those changes are not endearing them to the rank-and-file Republicans who are slated to one day swoon over Never Trumpers. It’s highly unlikely these MSNBC conservatives will ever dominate the GOP or CPAC ever again and, upon realization of that, they will move closer and closer to the center-left.
It’s not like there’s much difference between moderate liberals and Bret Stephens anymore.
The ideas Stephens and folks like him espouse will still have a place on the Right. But there’s not going to be some Soviet-esque downfall that will discredit Trumpism and make average conservatives flock to the wisdom of Jennifer Rubin.
There is also little chance a serious challenge will arise against Trump within the GOP while he’s president. The constituency for this challenge resides exclusively among the press and the D.C. metropolitan area — nowhere else.
Until Trump leaves the White House, his agenda will dominate the GOP and conservatism. The critics are just going to have to live through it. But the least the Never Trumpers can do is not pretend they are like Soviet dissidents.
Real dissidents in American politics are not championed by CNN and The New York Times.