Among the many factors that led to the defeat of Hillary Clinton in 2016- despite the fact she sucked on the big stage- was the Left’s growing alienation from middle America. No doubt, they have their disdainful slurs like “flyover America,” “basement dwellers,” and, of course, “basket of deplorables.” This is to be expected from the Left, but they had their counterparts on the Right. These are the people who, when not endorsing Clinton, were showing indifference to Clinton’s gangsterism. While Trump was throwing verbal punches, these experts were running to CNN showing they would accommodate for Clinton’s inevitable victory. They were also illustrating their antipathy towards America’s middle class. But many of the same people who voted for Trump were also supporters of the Tea Party who felt sold out by those they thought were their allies.
Prior to the election of Reagan, American conservatism was going through a renaissance led by thinkers like William F. Buckley and others. Intellectual and policy think tanks flourished. Once Reagan left office, these institutions were taken over by those more interested in their careers and opportunities. They slowly hollowed out a vibrant intellectual movement. The intellectuals and policy experts were replaced with talking heads. The conservatism of Buckley was betrayed and it is no coincidence that this occurred alongside the ascendancy of the Bushes in Republican politics. “Fiscal restraint” was replaced with “compassionate conservatism” and “a thousand points of light.”
The great economist, Milton Friedman, warned that economic freedom was constantly threatened by the self-interest of politicians and their special interest benefactors. He sometimes referred to it as another invisible hand akin to Adam Smith’s invisible hand. But unlike Smith’s invisible hand of the baker, butcher and brewer, this was the invisible hand of the banker and the bureaucrat. Coupled with Buckley’s conservatism, this mindset was not radical among true conservatives at the time.
Nowhere is the rot of Conservatism, Inc. most visible than in the demise of The Weekly Standard. Its founder- Bill Kristol- went increasingly off the rails in 2016 and completely off after Trump won. In retrospect, he may have occasionally shared some policy goals with conservatism but lacked the will to fight for them. This is indicative of a man lacking in underlying conservative principle for what good is the chatter without a willingness to fight for that which you allegedly advocate? He is like the Catholic who attends mass every week and mouths the words, but ignores the message yet is content because he dropped a $10 bill in the basket. This is a person who openly desires the impeachment of Trump and who encourages Democratic victories while, it was revealed, accepting money from Leftist billionaires.
Kristol is not the only guilty party. There was/is also the likes of Jennifer Rubin, Michael Gerson, Brett Stephens, David Brooks and, of course, everyone’s favorite bow-tie-wearing poindexter- George Will. Losers like Ana Navarro and Steve Schmidt lost any credibility pre-Trump when they threw their lot in with Clinton. One can also include David Frum, David French and, to a lesser extent, even Erick Erickson. There have been sudden flip-flops on positions because Trump may hold similar positions; Trump favors a tough immigration stance so these “conservatives” suddenly go squishy on immigration. Some even resort to the identity and class politics of the Left. To David French, “angry white men” are the enemies of prosperity, not the Left.
Part of the problem is called “cultural capture.” Living and working in liberal enclaves like DC and its suburbs or Manhattan, they begin to take on the beliefs of their liberal neighbors. They spout the conservative mantra, but in the interest of compromise, bipartisanship or statesmanship, they abandon their principles, if they had any to begin with. Others, such as free trade absolutists like the Cato Institute or the American Enterprise Institute are paid to oppose any fair trade policies. And the hawkish interventionists (see: Max Boot) just realized they would be sidelined and became bitter losers.
Along the way, they’ve embarrassed themselves and that has to hurt their inflated egos. While they were playing footsies with liberals at tea parties and in country clubs, they largely ignored the opioid crisis in rural America. They misread the frustration that uncontrolled immigration was creating among the conservative base. And they became opposed to any restriction on free trade and globalism.
As Tucker Carlson succinctly put it: “Conservative voters are being scolded for supporting a candidate they consider conservative because it would be bad for conservatism?” Those doing the scolding were the conservative advocates of open borders and going to war in countries to help people who hate us. These were the people who rejoiced in free trade deals that eliminated American jobs, but enriched donors. These were the same people mocking conservatives for not jumping on the gay marriage bandwagon. These were the saviors of conservatism? In reality, they were trying to save themselves because they wallow in the pity of perpetual losses. It is easier to be a martyr than a winner. At this point, they cannot even a muster a coherent conservative argument against Trump or his policies other than Trump’s personality and style.
Meanwhile, they criticize Trump for leading a populist movement. If Trump is a populist, then what does that make them other than an elitist? Had they not been stopped, conservatism would have been reduced to a gaggle of experts wallowing in pity and martyrdom. These former “leaders” were great at talking, but they fell woefully short on action.
Obama once famously joked about Chicago politics- when they bring a knife, we bring a gun. In elitist conservative circles, the mantra was apparently when they bring a gun, we bring spreadsheets, pie charts and words. They failed to realize that slick charts and graphs mean very little to the family living paycheck to paycheck. Today, they justify their opposition to Trump as a crusade to save conservatism and the Republican Party. The only thing they wanted to save was their monopoly on conservatism. As Tucker Carlson said, to paraphrase, the greater good has been sacrificed at the expense of the many for the benefit of a few.
What good are all these lofty ideals of compromise, bipartisanship and statesmanship if you are dealing with an enemy who shows no willingness to compromise, be bipartisan, or statesmanlike? The invisible hand which Friedman warned about 40 years ago has been realized with devastating results. Too bad we did not see that the invisible hand was present among the real conservatives willing to actually win.