It is going on two weeks after the election and large swaths of the conservative movement are just as shellshocked and embittered by Donald Trump’s surprising victory on November 8 as are the Democrats.
Donald Trump has been elected. None of the manifest defects he displayed as a candidate, a man, or a human have been remedied and, truth be told, the odds of a seventy-year-old spoiled brat changing his behavior is fairly remote. And, for good or ill, he will be our president for a minimum of four years.
A lot of us were of the #NeverTrump persuasion and, to put it bluntly, the GOP, and later the American people, considered our arguments against Trump and rejected them.* So what now? Posts by colleagues Kimberly Ross and Bill S have touched on the issue. I encourage you to read them. Perhaps the most succinct commentary has been, unsurprisingly, by Jonah Goldberg:
But as for me personally, and very much to my surprise, I am loving this. I have zero ownership of Donald Trump. This is the one area where I am in full agreement with Newt and Laura and Sean and that whole crowd. I never bought, as a matter of logic, that I would “own” a Clinton presidency, but I certainly understand as a matter of political and psychological perception that a great many people — including many friends — would feel otherwise. The simple fact is that there is just so much low-hanging fruit where the scattered Never Trumpers and the victorious Trumpers agree.
But now it’s all on them. They own Trump. I don’t. Never Trump is over — by definition. Saying you were “Never Trump” only ever meant that you wouldn’t vote for him or endorse him. We didn’t. He won anyway. Congrats. But now those of us who held the line are liberated. I will gladly and enthusiastically applaud when and if Trump does the right thing on judges, taxes, spending, etc. If he proves my predictions wrong, I will admit it or, on occasion, say, “Give it time.” I’ve constantly said that my job is to tell the truth as I see it. I did that during the election, and I’ll keep doing it going forward. When I’m wrong about Trump, I’ll be right about my ideology. And when I’m right about Trump, I’ll be able to say, “I told you so.”
It really isn’t all that simple. The issues we conservatives face today are exactly the same that we would have faced under President Rick Perry or President Marco Rubio or President Ted Cruz. For better or worse, we are inextricably linked to the GOP. Whether we like it or not, we and the candidates we put forth, will “own” Trump.
Many, many moons ago I was a college sophomore and ROTC enrollee. At the time, before the bean-counters became the dominant species in the Army, there was a plethora of schools at the Division level. The were a mix of good, bad and indifferent. One of these, a very good one, was run by the 82d Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, NC. It was a very intensive three week course in patrolling and small unit tactics with a heaping portion of sleep deprivation and harassment called the Division’s RECONDO (Reconnaissance and Commando) School (there is a Facebook page for grads). Historically, it was open only to enlisted men from the 82d Airborne but for two or three years it took in a limited number of ROTC cadets. I was in the first such class. There were twelve of us in a class of 97. It was tough and on graduation day I was one of four cadets and about 45 enlisted guys who were still standing. The school commandant was a Field Artillery captain named Handley. Quite a charismatic guy who we all admired even though we’d had little contact with him. After graduation he took the four of us officers-in-training aside and said something that has stuck with me most every day since then. “You have to,” he said, “make a decision. Are you going to be leaders in your unit or are you going to be assholes.”
That’s where we conservatives are today.
We can be leaders and try to push our agenda forward, all the time keeping faith with our principles, or we can be assholes and sit on the sidelines and call the people in charge cute little names and claim that Trump’s supporters are mostly racists and anti-Semites and hope for failure as though that failure will vindicate us and won’t damage the very goals we are trying to achieve.
To me the choice is pretty easy. I’m in this for the long haul. The stakes are too high and I have kids who will become adults in this world that is being created. I opposed Trump as long as it made sense but to continue to engage in some kind of rear guard action that only benefits the Democrats and deepens divisions on the right makes no sense to me. Like Goldberg, I’ll cheer Trump on when he’s right and oppose him when he’s wrong. But here’s where I part company with him. If we conservatives are anything more than an ineffectual circle jerk, and there are times when I’ve had my doubts, we need to take positive action to move our agenda forward. And, regardless of the guy at the top, there are people in his administration who are conservatives who merely saw the landscape in a different way than we did. We need to respect that and work with them as best we can.