The argument that social conservatives have debased themselves and invalidated the credibility of their future arguments by supporting Donald Trump has been made in a number of places since the tape showing Trump bragging about sexual assault surfaced on Friday.
However, less attention has been paid to the capitulation of a number of high-profile conservatives on one of the left’s core arguments against social conservatism: that those advocating for some level of cultural moral standard are merely repressed hypocrites, saying one thing publicly while acting differently behind closed doors. According to the left, conservatives are merely afraid to be honest about their licentiousness; “fun for me but not for thee.”
The push for “openness” around sex has undergirded some of the most radical sexual policies of the left for decades, including hiring Planned Parenthood to teach students about pornography and other explicit sexual practices in public schools. To object to the explicit sex talk, and introduction of what were once deviant behaviors privately practiced by a tiny minority into the mainstream, in any venue, is to be labeled by the left as a hypocrite, in favor of “repression” instead of “honesty” about the subject.
(Just don’t try to introduce any honesty about the differences between male and female brains, that’s truly offensive.)
In the course of defending Trump’s comments, his surrogates have downplayed them as “locker room talk,” and argued that men all over the country brag about groping women’s private parts and pursuing unwilling married women. Whether consciously or unwittingly, Trump’s surrogates are ceding victory to the left on one of its key attacks, and making defending the rest of the social conservative platform a virtually impossible task going forward.
Billionaire Trump investor Carl Icahn told CNBC, “it’s amazing that everyone is outraged by something that everyone knows is going on in every locker room in the country.” Rudy Giuliani told Jake Tapper on CNN, “men talk like that.” Supporter Scottie Nell Hughes defended the comments as just the talk of a man who did not yet realize he was going to be a politician, implying that only polished, insincere candidates would never say similar things behind closed doors.
Trump surrogates attempting to normalize the behavior on the tape – which, lest we forget, includes criminal sexual assault as well as adultery – are just reflecting the old leftist trope that holding men and women to any kind of sexual moral standard is just a hopeless exercise in pearl-clutching prudishness.
Even before the Trump tapes were released, his utter disregard for sexual morality has forced his Republican surrogates to fall back back on this old liberal argument in a way that shows just how internalized leftist cultural mantras have become. Giuliani, for instance, responded to a question about his own infidelities with a glib, “everybody does [it],” before walking those comments back in another interview.
The acceptance of these culturally-progressive attitudes and arguments on the right probably spell the short-term electoral death knell for social conservatives, especially when many of their leaders have shown that their votes can be bought so cheaply.
The power of social conservatives and Evangelicals in party politics is clearly much lower than it was even four years ago, when, with just an email, FRC’s Tony Perkins was able to muster his base to counteract Mitch Daniels’ presidential explorations because of the latter’s comments about focusing on economic freedom. Although it’s been decades since personal moral failings in the past, like multiple marriages and affairs, have been disqualifying for the Republican nomination, in 2012 Newt Gingrich was called on to publicly atone for his nuptial merry-go-round before he was forgiven by voters.
If there is a future for traditional conservatives, it lies in co-opting, not the values of the left as Trump and his surrogates do, but the tactics of the left. While the conservative coalition was busy celebrating Ronald Reagan’s political triumphs in the 1980s, they were turning a blind eye to the complete leftist takeover of key cultural institutions: the education system, media, and entertainment. Any hope of an electoral revival for conservatism depends on our ability to recapture these institutions from the left in the coming years, as 2016 has made the extent of leftist cultural victory, even among Republicans, depressingly clear.