Postmortem for the Conservative Movement, Part 1: Admitting We Have a Problem

The next six months are going to be cathartic in a sense, for those of us who have opposed Trump from day one. On the one hand, the Republican party whose love for crony capitalism birthed Trump, harbored him, and refused to oppose him is going to suffer greatly – and sadly, the country will have to suffer with it. On the other hand, it’s going to be highly entertaining, watching Trump go down in flames, while his many enablers who have blithely promised that he would beat Hillary despite all evidence to the contrary are going to be stuck with egg on their faces.

Nonetheless, it wouldn’t be right or proper to spend the next six months entirely in pointing, laughing, and gloating. There’s work to be done. Most of us who remain #NeverTrump have kids or will someday have kids that we will have to raise in this country. The damage that’s going to be done during the course of this election (even if Trump miraculously wins) and the subsequent four years will be considerable, and undoing it (or even slowing it) will be hard, arduous work. A well organized, hard working, and efficient conservative movement will be necessary to the salvation of our country itself.

But that can’t happen until we face up to the problem that all is not well in the conservative movement. It’s one thing to blame the media for giving Donald Trump virtually unlimited in-kind contributions, or the various Republican candidates who stayed in the race too long, attacked each other while Trump defined himself, the voters who foolishly pulled the lever for an unfit man, or the elected Republicans who refused to support Cruz because he wouldn’t apologize to McConnell.

All those things played a role, but the fact remains that a healthy and functioning conservative movement could have confronted Trumpism and prevented the embarrassing debacle that we now see unfolding before us. A healthy and functioning conservative movement wouldn’t have allowed our intellectual rigor to atrophy to the point that 16 alleged leading lights stood repeatedly dumbfounded on stage with Donald Trump without being able to muster an intelligent answer to his moronic demagoguery on trade. A healthy and functioning conservative movement would not have seen so many of its leading lights actually join forces with Trump, either actively or passively.

Pretending that the problems that allowed Trump to flourish are the fault of forces completely beyond our control or fault is symptomatic of the ineffective thinking that currently infests the movement as a whole. Sure, we live in a world where the media is liberal, the political party in which we have been nominally housed mostly despises us, and all of academia is ideologically opposed to our ideas and teaches our kids accordingly; however, these are features of America that have been present for decades.

A functioning political movement would have strategies for, in the short term, succeeding in spite of these challenges while in the long term attempting to soften the strength of the challenges themselves. The movement we have just blindly insists that just being conservative enough should really be enough, and if people don’t accept that, it’s their fault, not ours.

That’s a fine attitude for a political movement that wants to feel great about itself and its purity. It’s a terrible one for a movement that wants to actually accomplish anything on its agenda, or even to stop the worst parts of their opponents’ agenda.

Step one is understanding that we have a problem. We, as a movement, have a lot of things that we need to improve on, and refusing to acknowledge that fact means that it will never get better.

Over the next few days, as the GOP continues to rip itself apart, I’m going to be setting forth the problems that have accumulated within the movement, at least as I see them. I don’t purport to be the end-all be all of the movement as a whole; in fact, I realize that I’m just a minor player in it. But I hope to start a conversation that ends with some honest soul searching about our shortcomings, rather than just more anger, futility, and blame casting. My hope is that, by the time the Trump fire consumes the GOP in November, we’ll have some idea of where to go in the future to prevent this from ever, ever happening again.