Conservative Thinkers, Stop Being Stupid About Trump
Posted on May 3, 2016
(This originally appeared in The Hill)
The conservative intelligentsia (not necessarily a contradiction in terms) is being stupid about Donald Trump.
And in the process, they are revealing their biases against democracy and the will of the people.
We can get all Mencken about the American people (“Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard”), but the bottom line is that you either trust the democratic process or you don’t.
Trump is winning in his presidential primary and winning big. Instead of examining why he has been so successful, the leading lights of the Republican Party continue to bash away at the real estate tycoon and his supporters.
Here is Mike Gerson: “If the worst enemies of conservatism were to construct a Frankenstein figure that represents the worst elements of right-wing politics, Donald Trump would be it. But it is Republicans who are giving him life. And the damage is already deep.”
And George Will: “Donald Trump’s damage to the Republican Party, although already extensive, has barely begun. Republican quislings will multiply, slinking into support of the most anti-conservative presidential aspirant in their party’s history. These collaborationists will render themselves ineligible to participate in the party’s reconstruction.”
And Ross Douthat: “That clamor is loudest from the Trumpistas and their dear leader. Donald Trump is clearly running to be an American caudillo, not the president of a constitutional republic, and his entire campaign is a cult of personality in the style of (the pro-Trump) Vladimir Putin.”
And of course, David Brooks: “Donald Trump now looks set to be the Republican presidential nominee. So for those of us appalled by this prospect — what are we supposed to do? Well, not what the leaders of the Republican Party are doing. They’re going down meekly and hoping for a quiet convention. They seem blithely unaware that this is a Joe McCarthy moment. People will be judged by where they stood at this time.”
To these so-called smart people, I say: Stop being so stupid.
Trump will be the nominee. He will run a tough campaign against Hillary Clinton — tougher than Ted Cruz or Jeb Bush. He will scramble the map in ways we don’t quite understand. He is plenty smart, and while he might not be qualified in the conventional sense, he is more qualified than some of the other folks that our so-called smart set thought could do a good job. Remember when Bill Kristol thought Sarah Palin would make a fine president?
So why has Trump, on a relatively small budget and with a tiny campaign staff, done so well, while his competitors have failed so miserably?
Well, first, because he is a real outsider who represents real change.
So many voters are so completely fed up with the political class (and the conservative intelligentsia that supports them) that they saw Trump as the only candidate who could blow up the status quo.
I know many of those who voted for Trump, and they are by no means stupid, irrational, racist or anti-democratic. They are frustrated with politics as usual and they are taking their constitutional rights seriously by voting for change.
Second, Trump says what many of us have come to believe is true: that the Iraq War was a tragic mistake that shouldn’t be replicated. He was the only candidate to be so explicit in his denunciation, and I think it helped him with a big chunk of voters.
Third, he has a clear message on the economy that resonates: The middle class is getting screwed because the political class is looking out for their interests rather than for the broader interests of the American people. From being open to increasing taxes on the very wealthy to expressing concerns about trade deals to promising to protect Social Security, Trump is stating clearly that he will change the direction of the American economy.
I am not of the opinion that a Trump candidacy will do long-lasting damage to the party or the country. I guess that’s why I am not part of the conservative intelligentsia.