Taran Killam, left, Republican presidential candidate and guest host Donald Trump, center, and Darrell Hammond perform during the monologue on "Saturday Night Live", Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015. Trump's 90 minutes in the "SNL" spotlight followed weeks of growing anticipation, increasingly sharp criticism and mounting calls for him to be dropped from the show. (Dana Edelson/NBC via AP)

The Hoodwink

National Review, with a great cry of “for Narnia!” drew swords and rushed into the waiting ranks of trolls, ogres and other creatures defending their version of Jadis, a.k.a. Donald Trump.

Predictably, Trump simply parried with his expected Twitter repertoire.

Yada, yada, yada. And the vibrant band of misfits and racial purists who surround Trump also responded (representative sample of 10,000 odd “cuck” tweets below).

Then some Christians added in the “can’t beat’em, join’em” argument that Trump is a done deal, so we should play for influence instead of principle. If that could work, it would be wonderful, but Trump is incapable of refusing a compliment from anyone–even Vladimir Putin. Why would he value Jonah Goldberg’s opinion? Or Erick Erickson’s when there are so many more powerful and interesting people lining up to kiss his–er–ring?

But the best analysis comes from longtime Trump watcher and semi-professional expert in subliminal perception influence: Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams.

I need to add one level to the BOTTOM of the persuasion stack. That level involves arguing about the definition of a word.

Persuasion Stack

Identity (best)

Analogy (okay, not great)

Reason (useless)

Definition (capitulation)

You’ll see a lot of debate on whether Trump is a true conservative or not. That is argument by definition. It is the linguistic equivalent of throwing your gun at a monster because the magazine* is empty.

National Review’s cover story, in which the big question comes down to whether Trump is a true conservative or not, is your tell for capitulation on the right.

The left is still in the fight, but the right just capitulated to Trump.

In the 2D world, it might seem that National Review’s organized resistance of “thought leaders” opposed to Trump is a big deal. But that incorrectly assumes “thought” was ever important. In the 3D world of persuasion, National Review’s move is nothing but throwing the gun at the monster.

On some level, people can feel that.

Update: Some of you asked why “conservative” is not a valid identity play. It is an identify of sorts, but one that is cobbled together from ideas. It is not the same level as gender, race, or nation. People can stop being conservative in ten minutes, if they choose.

The persuasion stack is an approximation. Assume there is always some reason and some identity in all the levels.

Based on conversations I am having with people who self-identify as conservative Christians, Adams is on the mark. By standing for principle, NR has given Trump supporters and others in their near-orbit the sign that the right is out of ammunition and have fired their last salvo before throwing the empty gun at the monster.

Rational, God-loving, gun-toting folks who have no particular issue with Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio see the NR play as one of exclusive identity politics. They see Trump as the conservative, and the 22 writers as betrayers. I know it sounds fantastic, but this is the view for many.

Does that position stand against any reasonable definition of “conservative”? No. But as Adams wrote, we’re not playing definitions. That’s a weak argument.

This is a defining moment. Either the movement has been hijacked and the base has been hoodwinked, or there’s still hope for a real revival of actual conservative values versus raw populism and “winning.”

If Adams is right, the battle is over, and conservatives lose. It’s a shame, too, because as Jonah Goldberg wrote, if that’s what the conservative movement has become, count me out.

About the author

Steve Berman

The old Steve cared about money, prestige, and power. Then Christ found me. All at once things changed. But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

I spent 30 years in business. Now I write and edit. But mostly I love. I have a wife and 2 kids and a dog and we live in a little house in central Georgia.

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