November 9, 2016 – As President-Elect Hillary Clinton celebrates her election day victory, the Republican Party and the conservative movement is fractured as never before. The finger-pointing and blame-shifting for Donald Trump’s lopsided defeat has begun. Even as Trump’s allies rail against the so-called #NeverTrump movement, others blame Trump’s early supporters and promoters, including FoxNews, for propelling the most unpopular major party nominee in American history toward the Republican nomination and inevitable defeat.
October has barely begun, but the paragraph above feels right already.
The Republican Party is broken. The conservative movement is fractured. We had high hopes for 2016, but our best opportunity to elect a conservative president in a generation crumbled to dust with the rise of Trump.
So where do we go from here?
George Washington warned us that political parties would “become potent engines by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”
This accurately describes our government from top to bottom…not just Donald Trump.
We would do well to remember that political parties are coalitions of similar interests. That’s what makes them useful. As our country’s partisan divide became wider, Republicans and Democrats alike forgot that. Both sides of the aisle fell prey to tribalism.
For our part, passionate opposition to Obama’s agenda drove us to ignore the dark underbelly of our party – the kind of people who ultimately gave rise to Trump. We didn’t recognize them for what they were. We circled our wagons around them when the Democrats and the media attacked, and the poison festered until it was too late. Now, former allies are at one another’s throats while others lay low and hope no one notices them until the storm has passed.
Resuscitating the conservative movement – and the Republican Party – does not involve rapprochement with Trump’s alt-right base, so ignore all the talk about healing and building bridges you will hear next month.
It means viewing politics with a cynical eye. A political party is not a set of principles. It’s not a social club. It’s a tool. We should use it like one. If it isn’t suitable for our purpose, we attempt to fix it. If it’s irreparable, we throw it away and get a new one. But we never get emotionally attached. We never let it take control. We use the tool. We do not let it use us.
Politicians have their own goals. Sometimes, their highest aspiration is power. Sometimes, it’s merely to keep their jobs. Some members of the Republican coalition have goals diametrically opposed to our principles of limited government. We can get angry and shake our fists at the sky, or we can recognize reality and deal with it.
Rather than idolizing politicians, we should use them, their special interest organizations and media outlets on our own terms. We build coalitions, taking support from this politician, that media organization, or this special interest as required to incrementally advance our goals and make this country a better place. Sometimes, we will have to give on something we don’t like to get something else. That’s OK, too. The trick is to recognize the bad deals when these politicians and political interests are trying to use us.
It’s easier said than done, but that’s how the game is played. It’s what politics is. We would do well to remember that. Our loyalty is to principle, not party. Goals, not individuals.
We also need to reach out. We stop preaching to the choir. We educate. This means talking to people who disagree with us. It means listening, and I mean listening to persuade, not win arguments. To defeat the left, we need allies, and we won’t get them by being confrontational. Arguments don’t convince. They entrench. Most people have good intentions. Let’s see where our common interests lie and present solutions. We won’t win everyone over, but we don’t need to.
We can move past Trump, but not by papering over our differences, making common cause with his supporters, or putting the band back together. We do it by advancing our principles however we can, whenever we can, with whoever helps us do it.