Kevin Williamson of National Review Online attacks the conservative base of the Republican Party in his latest column, “WHINOS: On the Martyrdom of the Holy, Holy Base.”
His critique makes the valid point that conservatives who favor ideological purity or populist venting over electability are going to lose a lot of elections. He is as irritated as his colleague Jonah Goldberg is worried about the Donald Trump insurgency in the Republican presidential primary. However, both he and Goldberg fail to note the reason for Trump’s ascendancy.
Trump is surging for the same reason that Newt Gingrich enjoyed a brief bubble in the 2012 primary: he is taking on the media. Or, more accurately, he is being victimized by it.
The media’s over-reaction to Trump’s comments about Mexicans is of a piece with the “two minutes’ hate” against the Confederate flag, and the courts’ pursuit of Christian bakers. You don’t have to have a soft spot for billionaires, or like the Dukes of Hazzard, or enjoy beating the Bible to feel a sense of alarm at the media’s mob behavior. It is intended as a warning to the rest of us.
People are rallying around Trump even more strongly after the shocking murder of 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle, who was gunned down by an illegal alien felon who lived in the U.S. due to the “sanctuary city” policies of the Democratic Party. Trump is perceived as speaking for the victims–and the potential victims, who include every single American.
The leading candidates of both political parties all support some form of immigration reform that will grant legal status to illegal aliens before the border is secure. Trump is finally giving voice to the opposition.
It may all flame out eventually–either because of Trump’s own antics, or because of the many contradictions in his record. What is odd is that his competitors are not exploiting that record. Instead, they are telling him to shut up and go away.
The innumerable pundits who bash Trump–some of whom he has bashed in return, sometimes unfairly–seem to share the fanciful idea that the GOP primary was all set to be a genteel affair until Trump crashed the party. It is a naïve idea at best–especially when Democrats never, ever play by the same rules.
Williamson takes issue with some of the queries put to him by my colleague, Matthew Boyle. Without commenting on, or for, Boyle, it is Williamson’s answers that seem more puzzling. The cautionary example of Mitt Romney, an “electable” candidate who went on to lose, is not an unfair one. Romney wasn’t just moderate: he was uniquely unable to challenge President Barack Obama on the domestic policy issue of the day, i.e. Obamacare. And when his moment came, with the Benghazi attack, he lacked both the guts and the media finesse to make it count. Trump has both.
It is true, as Williamson points out, that Romney beat all of his conservative opponents. But it is worth noting how close Gingrich came. He failed because he stopped fighting the media and started–like many of today’s pundits–lecturing the conservative base about how it should think and feel.
The issue happened to be illegal immigration. Gingrich told Republicans they were “heartless” if they disagreed with him.
The conservative “base” is many things, but mostly it is tired of being told it doesn’t care. It cares most of all.