Donald Trump’s Destruction of the Conservative Movement

I have always believed in the importance of checks and balances.

I believed that it was necessary to have a party who would fight for smaller government, should the other party sometimes fall prey to the trap of viewing government as the sole potential purveyor of a solution.

I believed that it was necessary to have a party who would fight for fiscal responsibility, should the other party’s hearts sometimes exceed the size of their wallets.

 I believed that it was necessary to have a party who would fight for our freedoms, should the

other party find themselves too willing at times to sacrifice freedom in the name of security.

I believed that it was important to have a party who would fight.

I also once believed the Republican Party to be that kind of party. To hold steadfast to the Constitution, to tighten the purse strings, to limit government’s reach. And once upon a time, I believe that to have been true.

No more.

The Republican Party has lost their will to fight — at least against those persons or policies deserving. The only war that they fight today is a strictly partisan battle against any and all opposition, no matter the practicality or necessity inherent therein. No matter if those individuals whom they now oppose are fighting for the very ideals they once advocated.

The Republican Party, for instance, once was the party of fiscal responsibility. They were mindful of the debt and the deficit and decried superfluous spending.

Today, they preside over an economy marked by record debts and deficits.

The Republican Party once was the party of free trade. As the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Institute explains, there existed an “intimate connection between free trade and three other pillars of a conservative approach: a market orientation, a commitment to limited government, and a belief in responsible internationalism.” 

Only, Donald Trump’s tariffs now threaten to raze those pillars. Protectionist policies relating to the aluminum and steel sectors have failed to demonstrably help Americans in those industries and instead drew retaliation that necessitated $12 billion in subsidies. As the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Institute aptly put it: “The protectionist approach expanded the role of the government in the economy and moved away from principles of limited, predictable governance,” and the international effects have “significantly strained relations with key allies, have undercut the idea of the United States as a responsible leader, and have thus diminished American standing in the world.”

Trump’s trade war also led to an agricultural downturn, which necessitated further bailouts (in record numbers) for those in the farming industry — a redistribution of wealth that conservatives once would have denounced as “socialist.” As then-Republican Senator Jim DeMint said at the time of Obama’s automotive bailout, “Now the government has forced taxpayers to buy these failing companies without any plausible plan for profitability. Does anyone think the same government that plans to double the national debt in five years will turn GM around in the same time?”

Those same arguments could be applied to the Trump administration’s bailouts today, and yet Republicans have allowed him to enter this season of protectionism with neither resistance nor restraint, and to little avail. The U.S. monthly goods trade deficit hit a record high in August, and the overall trade deficit reached the highest point since 2006. 

Conservative foreign policy has also seen a discernible shift in the Trump era, some of which was arguably positive and inevitable, but much of it not. Hence the reason why so many former Republican national security officials have come forth to endorse Biden

Donald Trump’s unmatched influence has also led conservatives to abandon their pro-life stance. Sure, they may continue to advocate against abortion, but those same people who believe that a woman’s 9-month pregnancy is a worthwhile inconvenience if it should lead to the preservation of a vulnerable zygote’s life now believe that the inconvenience of wearing a mask is too big an ask in order to shelter from death the vulnerable populations amongst us. “Inconvenience for thee, but not for me” is now the mantra of a party that once preached accountability.

And Republicans have consistently abdicated their responsibility to seek that accountability. They have not held Donald Trump accountable, nor have they held themselves accountable to their own past actions and words. That much became evident when the same lawmakers who spoke of the importance of calling witnesses against Bill Clinton refused to hear witnesses when it was obvious that their testimony would implicate Donald Trump. When those same lawmakers who railed against the nomination of a Supreme Court justice 293 days prior to an election dismissed it as an act of sheer folly when their contemporaries condemned the confirmation a Supreme Court justice a mere 8 days prior to an election when tens of millions of Americans had already voted.

And this fealty to Donald Trump does not just present itself in an abandonment of conservative policies and democratic norms; it extends to conservative individuals as well. People who once thought John McCain and Mitt Romney deserving of the highest office in the land now dismiss their every criticism wholesale. People who once lauded American icons like General James Mattis and Dr. Anthony Fauci (who was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom by George W. Bush) now view them, instead, through the negative prism of the kaleidoscope constructed by Donald Trump.

Indeed, conservatives — both inside government and out — have acquiesced to Trump’s destruction of their movement by awarding their loyalty to the man, rather than to our institutions and the people who have long upheld them.

When it became clear that the Emperor had no clothes, they did not guide him to the closet, but rather shed their clothes themselves.

What we are left with in the wake is a party whose quest for raw political power supersedes all else, including the very values that once made their presence critical to a functioning democracy. To be sure, the Republican Party was already out of touch with much of the electorate, failing to  evolve on matters of human rights and equality. But they now find themselves out of touch with many of the self-touted tenets of democracy and conservatism as well.

It is my sincere hope that they can and will reimagine themselves in the post-Trump era of our republic and begin once again to serve as a check on our nation’s other party. Until then, they will doubtless continue to suffer the consequences of their abdications and associations. Because a party that is inhospitable not only to its opposition but to its own principles and ideals is a party that cannot stand.

Not after its pillars have been razed.

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