Where Have You Gone, Principled Conservatism? Our Nation Turns Its Lonely Eyes to You….

[A collaborative post by Contributing Editors Rob Barthelmess and Christopher Cooke]

For the last eight years, all eyes have been trained on the flaws and hypocrisy of the political left. And there has been plenty to see: Berkeley protests, academic witch hunts, general hysteriafear mongering, demonizing the values and beliefs of average Americans, and ignoring the fears and concerns of millions among the working class. This has led to a disconnect between the left’s mainstream narratives and much of the American public.

To conservatives, these flaws stem from ideology. For years, we’ve criticized this ideology frequently, telling ourselves if we were in power, things would be different. Sean Hannity and the like made millions tearing into President Obama, criticizing the left and holding up its failures as evidence of a flawed ideology.

The flaws of the left indeed ushered in an unexpected Trump presidency. For conservative Trump voters, the typical argument went something like, “he isn’t perfect, but he’s better than the alternative” or “the Supreme Court is at stake.” That’s true. (And let us say–we are enthralled with Justice Gorsuch and the many other promising judicial nominations.) As a result, Republicans now hold the presidency, the House, and the Senate.

But in many ways, it’s easier to be the minority party. You can play the role of obstructionist and blame all failures on the majority. Standing center stage can be unpleasant, as bipartisanship and genuine civility toward those with whom you disagree render you a traitor, or worse. Few politicians have the political capital to withstand this brand of infighting.

Pleasant or not, however, this moment in time is a critical one for conservatives. After eight years of criticizing bad ideas and weathering attacks of bigotry and hate, we now have an important opportunity to show how our ideas work and why our principles matter. In fact, we have more than an opportunity; we have a duty. As we learned from Spider-Man, “[I]n this world, with great power there must also come–great responsibility!”

Spider-Man

S. Lee and S. Ditko, Amazing Fantasy No. 15: “Spider-Man!,” p. 13 (1962).

Today, we have a moral obligation to show the principles we stand for are worthy of the people’s confidence. At the least, we have an obligation to show we still have principles. So far, we are failing. Worse yet, too many “conservative” leaders are sacrificing our principles in an apparent attempt to protect our November victories.

At a philosophical level, the conservative movement is not about protecting individual politicians or victories; it is about selling ideas. At a practical level, it is all-too-clear that our few victories are now coming at a tremendous cost. According to a Fox News poll released June 29th, 71% of voters said President Trump’s tweets are hurting his agenda. In other words, the casualties of his twitter-tantrums aren’t just his approval-ratings.

“The ends justify the means” may have worked on November 7th, but that day has passed.

President Trump’s consistent behavior–even if not criminal–reflects a blatant lack of virtue, something our Founders warned was an existential threat to any republic. Today provided just another example, as tomorrow certainly will, as well as the next day. By lashing out against political pundits with the force of a five-year-old, President Trump simultaneously took the pressure off of CNN for its recently exposed improprieties, undermined his supporters who called for elevated discourse and criticized inflammatory rhetoric in light of the Alexandria shooting, and, most importantly, used the Office of the President to engage in a petty pissing contest rather than nominating judges, filling out his administration, or moving healthcare reform forward.

In other words, conservatives may, and do, divide over the proper approach to immigration, foreign policy, or how exactly to repeal Obamacare, but we should at the very least be unified in our concern with President Trump’s repeated immaturity and downright inability to garner a true win for conservatism.

It is easy to dismiss the media’s constant preoccupation with President Trump’s antics, arguing it distracts us from the real issues–and indeed it is true the media has abused its influence. But at the end of the day, it is the President himself that generates the sideshows and self-inflicts his wounds. Each and every time we enable this, we compromise our opportunity to explain and sell our ideas, all the while suggesting to the world that the values we espoused over the past eight years were nothing but empty rhetoric to win over discontent voters–i.e., “a nothing burger.”

Our principles must no longer be reduced to anti-anti-Trumpism. With each and every defense of President Trump’s child-like behavior, we sacrifice our principles and show the American public that conservatives are unable to lead–a major win for the left.

That can change. And it must.

 

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