Let me say up front that I am a life-long Republican and conservative. I have never voted for a Democrat in my life and have voted in every presidential and midterm election since 1988. I have never in my life considered myself anything but a conservative. I am pained to admit that the conservative media and many conservatives’ reaction to Donald Trump has caused me to no longer consider myself part of the movement. I would suggest to you that if you have lost people like me, and I am not alone, you might want to reconsider your reaction to Donald Trump. Let me explain why.
First, I spent the last 20 years watching the conservative media in Washington endorse and urge me to vote for one candidate after another who made a mockery of conservative principles and values. Everyone talks about how thankful we are for the Citizens’ United decision but seems to have forgotten how we were urged to vote for the coauthor of the law that the decision overturned. In 2012, we were told to vote for Mitt Romney, a Massachusetts liberal who proudly signed an individual insurance mandate into law and refused to repudiate the decision. Before that, there was George W. Bush, the man who decided it was America’s duty to bring democracy to the Middle East (more about him later). And before that, there was Bob Dole, the man who gave us the Americans with Disabilities Act. I, of course, voted for those candidates and do not regret doing so. I, however, am self-aware enough to realize I voted for them because I will vote for virtually anyone to keep the Left out of power and not because I thought them to be the best or even really a conservative choice. Given this history, the conservative media’s claims that the Republican party must reject Donald Trump because he is not a “conservative” are pathetic and ridiculous to those of us who are old enough to remember the last 25 years.
Second, it doesn’t appear to me that conservatives calling on people to reject Trump have any idea what it actually means to be a “conservative.” The word seems to have become a brand that some people attach to a set of partisan policy preferences, rather than the set of underlying principles about government and society it once was. Conservatism has become a dog’s breakfast of Wilsonian internationalism brought over from the Democratic Party after the New Left took it over, coupled with fanatical libertarian economics and religiously-driven positions on various culture war issues. No one seems to have any idea or concern for how these positions are consistent or reflect anything other than a general hatred for Democrats and the Left.
Lost in all of this is the older strain of conservatism. The one I grew up with and thought was reflective of the movement. This strain of conservatism believed in the free market and capitalism but did not fetishize them the way so many libertarians do. This strain understood that a situation where every country in the world but the US acts in its own interests on matters of international trade and engages in all kinds of skulduggery in support of their interests is not free trade by any rational definition. This strain understood that a government’s first loyalty was to its citizens and the national interest. And also understood that the preservation of our culture and our civil institutions was a necessity.
All of this seems to have been lost. Conservatives have become some sort of schizophrenic sect of libertarians who love freedom (but hate potheads and abortion) and feel the US should be the policeman of the world. The same people who daily fret over the effects of leaving our society to the mercy of Hollywood and the mass culture have somehow decided leaving it to the mercies of the international markets is required.
Third, there is the issue of the war on Islamic extremism. Let me say upfront that, as a veteran of two foreign deployments in this war, I speak with some moral authority on it. So please do not lecture me on the need to sacrifice for one’s country or the nature of the threat that we face. I have gotten on that plane twice and have the medals and t-shirt to prove it. And, as a member of the one percent who have actually put my life on the line in these wars movement conservatives consider so vital, my question for you and every other conservatives is just when the hell did being conservative mean thinking the US has some kind of a duty to save foreign nations from themselves or bring our form of democratic republicanism to them by force? I fully understand the sad necessity to fight wars and I do not believe in “blow back” or any of the other nonsense that says the world will leave us alone if only we will do that same. At the same time, I cannot for the life of me understand how conservatives of all people convinced themselves that the solution to the 9-11 attacks was to forcibly create democracy in the Islamic world. I have even less explanations for how — 15 years and 10,000 plus lives later — conservatives refuse to examine their actions and expect the country to send more of its young to bleed and die over there to save the Iraqis who are clearly too slovenly and corrupt to save themselves.
The lowest moment of the election was when Trump said what everyone in the country knows: that invading Iraq was a mistake. Rather than engaging the question with honest self-reflection, all of the so called “conservatives” responded with the usual “How dare he?” Worse, they let Jeb Bush claim that Bush “kept us safe.” I can assure you that President Bush didn’t keep me safe. Do I and the other people in the military not count? Sure, we signed up to give our lives for our country and I will never regret doing so. But doesn’t our commitment require a corresponding responsibility on the part of the president to only expect us to do so when it is both necessary and in the national interest?
And since when is bringing democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan so much in the national interest that it is worth killing or maiming 50,000 Americans to try and achieve? I don’t see that, but I am not a Wilsonian and used to, at least, be a conservative. I have these strange ideas that my government ought to act in America’s interests instead of the rest of the world’s interests. I wish conservatives could understand how galling it was to have a fat, rich, career politician who has never once risked his life for this country lecture those of us who have about how George Bush kept us safe.
Donald Trump is the only Republican candidate who seems to have any inclination to act strictly in America’s interest. More importantly, he is the only Republican candidate who is willing to even address the problem. Trump was right to say that we need to stop letting more Muslims into the country or, at least, examine the issue. And like when he said the obvious about Iraq, the first people to condemn him and deny the obvious were conservatives. Somehow, being conservative now means denying the obvious and saying idiotic fantasies like “Islam is the religion of peace,” or “Our war is not with Islam.” Uh, sorry but no it is not, and yes it is. And if getting a president who at least understands that means voting for Trump, then I guess I am not a conservative.
Fourth, I really do not care that Donald Trump is vulgar, combative, and uncivil and I would encourage you not to care as well. I would love to have our political discourse be what it was even thirty years ago and something better than what it is today. But the fact is the Democratic Party is never going to return to that and there isn’t anything anyone can do about it. Over the last 15 years, I have watched the then-chairman of the DNC say the idea that President Bush knew about 9-11 and let it happen was a “serious position held by many people,” watched the vice president tell a black audience that Republicans would return them to slavery if they could, watched Harry Reid say Mitt Romney was a tax cheat without any reason to believe it was true, and seen an endless amount of appalling behavior on the part of the Democrats which is too long to list here and which I am sure you are aware. And now you tell me that I should reject Trump because he is uncivil and mean to his opponents? Is that some kind of a joke? This is not the time for civility or to worry about it in our candidates.
Fifth, I do not care that Donald Trump is in favor of big government. That is certainly not a virtue but it is not a meaningful vice since the same can be said of every single Republican in the race. I am sorry but the “we are just one more Republican victory from small government” card is maxed out. We are not getting small government no matter who wins. So Trump being big government is a wash.
Sixth, Trump offers at least the chance that he might act in the American interest instead of the world’s interest or in the blind pursuit of some fantasy ideological goals. There is more to economic policy than cutting taxes, sham free trade agreements, and hollow appeals to “cutting government” and the free market. Trump may not be good, but he at least understands that. In contrast, the rest of the GOP and everyone in Washington or the media who calls themselves a conservative has no understanding of this.
Rubio would be — as Laura Ingram pointed out this week — nothing but a repeat of the Bush 43 administration with more blood and treasure spent on the fantasy that acting in other people’s interests indirectly helps ours. Cruz might be somewhat better, but it is unclear whether he could resist the temptations of nation building and wouldn’t get bullied into trying it again. And as much as I like Cruz on many areas he, like all of them except Trump, seems totally unwilling to admit that the government has a responsibility to act in the nation’s interests on trade policy and do something besides let every country in the world take advantage of us in the name of “free trade.”
Consider the following. Our country is going broke, half its working-age population isn’t even looking for work, faces the real threat of massive Islamic terrorist attack, and has a government incapable of doing even basic functions. Meanwhile, conservatives act like cutting Planned Parenthood off the government or stopping gays from getting marriage licenses are the great issues of the day and then have the gumption to call Donald Trump a clown. It would be downright funny if it wasn’t so sad and the situation so serious.
It is not that I think Donald Trump is some savior or an ideal candidate. I don’t. It is that I cannot for the life of me — given the sorry nature of our current political class — understand why conservatives are losing their minds over him and are willing to destroy the Republican Party and put Hillary into office to stop him. All of your objections to him either apply to many other candidates you have backed or are absurd.
I don’t expect you to agree with me or start backing Trump. I would, however, encourage you to at least think about what I and others have said and to understand that the people backing Trump are not nihilists or uneducated hillbillies looking for a job. Some of us are pretty serious people and once considered ourselves conservatives. Even if you still hate Trump, you owe it to conservatism to ask yourself how exactly conservatism managed to alienate so many of its supporters such that they are now willing to vote for someone you loath as much as Trump.
I would also encourage you to stop insulting Trump voters. Multiple conservative journalists — Kevin Williamson to name one — have said, in so many words, that Trump supporters are welfare queens, losers, uneducated, and bums. I am a Trump supporter. My father is a Trump supporter. We both went to war for this country. My father spent 40 years in the private sector maintaining this thing we like to call the phone system. I have spent the last 20 years in the Army and toiling away doing national security and law enforcement issues for the federal government. Just what exactly have any of the people saying these things ever done for the country? Where do they feel entitled to say these things? And more importantly, why on earth do they think it is helping their cause?
I am sorry, even if you can convince me Trump is the next Hitler, I don’t want to be associated with that. I don’t want to be associated with a movement that calls other Americans bums and welfare queens because they support the wrong candidate. If I wanted to do that, I would be a leftist.
Perhaps none of this means anything to you and the movement has left me behind. If it has, I think conservatives should understand that it is leaving a lot of people like me behind. I can’t see how that is a good thing.