The Democrats have long enjoyed greater unity than the Republicans. Even the surprising challenge raised from Bernie Sanders is now only a recent memory. This may have come from the insider manipulations and the control wielded by the super delegates, but at least they are united after the nomination. There are far fewer Democrats for Trump than the reverse.
The Democrats shielded their process from unfiltered democracy after the landslide loss of George McGovern, though it would have been a tough slog for any Democrat in that election year. The Republicans are plagued by a list of litmus tests: second amendment rights, abortion, immigration, school prayer, and gay rights are distinct issues that decide whether a candidate is acceptable regardless of how strong they support or define constitutional protections of liberty or free market principles.
Since Roe v Wade there has been a fragile coalition of the economic and constitutional conservatives with the social conservatives. Yet Reagan enabled this coalition to deliver decades of growth and prosperity. Since then the Republicans have had to overcome their own fragmentation as much as the media and other institutional biases.
Trump’s campaign has rejected the political necessity, especially for the GOP, of building coalitions. He immediately ran afoul of the famous Reagan rule to speak no ill of fellow Republicans. While his style may have won the nomination in a populist revolt against elites from both parties, it is increasingly doubtful that this strategy will win the general election. Recent polls have him slightly behind, but this masks the reality that against the enormously unpopular and untrusted Hillary Clinton he should be at least ten points ahead. The election was the Republicans’ to lose, and that is increasingly likely.
Trump trampled the establishment Republicans, which are those who have actually won elections and have had to govern in a divided government, but all of them failed one litmus test or another and thus as a group became unacceptable.
Unique in this campaign is the united resistance from the conservative intellectuals. This was most boldly stated in the cover story in National Review, Against Trump. Jonah Goldberg, David French, Kevin Williamson, Mona Charen, George Will, Erick Erickson, Charles Krauthammer and many others have written frequently on the dangers of a Trump candidacy and presidency. Rarely have so many conservative thinkers so strongly opposed the Republican nominee. Does it matter?
It appears not, since he has risen in the polls as the often vicious attacks from the intellectual right accumulated. But there is only one poll that matters, and that is less than a month away. These thinkers and writers object to Trump for three main reasons.
First, he has a poor concept of conservative or free market principles. He enthusiastically supports the Supreme Court Kelo decision, allowing corporations to usurp the state’s power of imminent domain. He has sued reporters who questioned his statements and claims (and lost), and threatened to use his power to stifle criticism. He indicates he will continue Obama’s abuse of the Constitution with executive orders. He reduces trade to its most ignorant form, seeing only one side of the transaction. Like the Progressives he substitutes his version of pragmatism for an understanding of Constitutional or market principles.
Secondly, he remains profoundly ignorant of our foreign relationships, treaties, and trade agreements. He has had a year to get up to speed. Quick test: How many people did you know before the campaign that thought there was a problem with our NATO allies not paying their fair share? Mutual defense pacts are not like multiple partners in casino or hotel properties. Treaties are mutual pacts, not business propositions or shakedown opportunities.
Third, his character issues are worrisome in a national leader, not because he insults a beauty queen or engages in lewd locker room talk, but because he is unprepared, unthoughtful, egocentric, undiplomatic and unrestrained. He does not separate the important from the unimportant. His excuse of the audit for not releasing his tax returns is no more believable than Hillary’s claim that the deleted e-mails were about yoga classes.
By refusing to support Trump are they not just supporting Hillary? Would we not be better off if Trump picked the new Supreme Court justices? Isn’t his tax plan much better that Hillary’s? (It is.) Are they willing to let his many imperfections control their decision to allow the sinister Hillary to rule?
These are difficult and legitimate questions, but a party with no principles is not a party but a populist movement, in this case possibly a political revolution. Revolutions often degenerate into the hands of those who respect power more than principles. Our American Revolution was a rare exception, but the framers and founders were exceptional men in a unique time that is rarely found in the course of history.
It may be unreasonable to expect the voters to appreciate the spontaneous elegance of the free market, the extended benefits of trade, the significance of our constitutional restraints on central power and the importance of placing liberty before democracy. When you face a stagnant economy, spiraling health care costs, the fear of terrorist attacks, and the contempt of an elite, deaf to your reality, these principles may seem irrelevant.
They are not. If allowed to acquire power while rejecting these important principles, such a candidate would neuter the only political organization left that is keeping those principles alive. The conservative intellectuals understand that undermining sound principles of Constitutional law and free market capitalism is no better just because it is accomplished by a candidate who has managed to run with an ‘R’ by his name. It may be worse.