If Donald J. Trump becomes the Republican nominee for president the two biggest losers will be the nation – which will not see a real, substantive and issue-driven debate in the general election – and the conservative movement. Yes, the Republican Party will suffer a deep and perhaps irreparable rift, but political parties are a mechanical part of the process, they are not an end in and of themselves. What matters more than political parties are the people who run for and hold office, and the philosophy they embrace and the governing record they amass.
There is no question that some Trump supporters are conservative. They describe themselves as conservative, and some even self-identify as “very conservative” when asked by pollsters about their political beliefs. But to be a conservative who supports Trump, you must suspend your beliefs and your principles to back a man who, even now, does not support conservatism as a political philosophy.
One explanation for Trump’s relative popularity among a minority of conservatives (and Republicans for that matter) is that conservatives are upset with the GOP over a real and perceived failure to stand up to President Barack Obama. This frustration manifests itself in a “tear the whole thing down” mentality that supports Trump not because of what he believes or says but because he represents a finger poke in the eye of the Republican Party.
I am all for holding the Republican Party accountable. It must be done for there are numerous weak spines and principle-free individuals who make their home in the GOP merely to secure position, power or prestige. Principles matter nothing to them outside of the principle of self-promotion. And while the GOP is not the conservative movement and vice versa, voting for a liberal candidate only because he has a loud mouth just to “stick it” to the Republican Party is a very foolish strategy.
It is one thing to champion conservative candidates who are running to change the status quo, it is another matter entirely to suspend your conservative principles just to “send a message,” particularly at a time when the Republican Party is slowly being tugged in the direction of conservative principles.
Look at the make up of the United States Senate today (disclosure: I support Sen. Ted Cruz for president and I like him as a senator). That body, which used to be home to Republicans like Trent Lott, Arlen Specter, Richard Luger, Jim Jeffords and others is now home to Mike Lee, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz (for now), Ben Sasse, Tom Cotton, and Marco Rubio. Over in the House of Representatives, conservative members pushed Speaker John Boehner out and replaced him with Speaker Paul Ryan, who is certainly far more conservative than Boehner.
Playing hardball in a GOP primary works if the stakes are between a genuine conservative and a defender of the Washington D.C. status quo. Donald Trump may have never held elected office, but he’s no outsider and he’s hardly a champion of conservative values.
Conservatives should recognize that thanks to hard work and strong contrasts, principled men and women are gaining ground in the Republican Party. Is the GOP perfect? Hardly. Do more primary fights need to be waged? Absolutely. But nominating Donald Trump would be a blow not just for the Republican Party, but far more importantly it would undermine the work of rock solid conservatives who have begun to make real inroads.
You can’t change the status quo by voting for someone who unapologetically boasts about all of his years spent advocating for the status quo.