RIVERSIDE — Conservatives are gathering here in the capital of the Inland Empire for the fourth annual “Unite I.E.” conference, a grass-roots initiative sponsored by AM 590 The Answer.
Unity is always easier in victory than in defeat, and Donald Trump’s surprise win in November helped avert a split within the movement. The presence of hundreds of left-wing protesters, expected outside the local convention center, will also remind participants of our common cause.
But there is some unfinished business of the 2016 election in the conservative movement.
Until about 9:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on November 8, the pro-Trump and NeverTrump factions of the movement fully expected to spend the next several years fighting over who was to blame for what many expected was a certain Trump loss. The NeverTrump side was the more vociferous of the two, and made clear they would punish Trump supporters for their doomed choice.
In September 2016, several weeks before Election Day, I wrote a column at Breitbart News in which I urged those on both sides of the divide to forgive each other before the first ballots were case.
“It is difficult to see what benefit can come from assigning blame to either side of the pro-Trump/NeverTrump divide,” I wrote. I concluded: “Regardless, forgiveness has the moral power to strengthen us, and our country — if we have the courage to offer and seek it.”
I am pleased to say that I did exchange a few letters and e-mails with some people with whom I had disagreements throughout the course of the election — though some, sadly, were not interested in mending fences.
Since Election Day, several NeverTrump conservatives who attacked me, or Breitbart News, during the campaign offered their apologies. Of course, I accepted. There is so more to gain from forgiveness than blame, and more that unites us than divides us.
There are still some in the NeverTrump wing of the movement who are seizing on every perceived mistake by the new administration as proof that they were, in fact, correct to doubt Trump.
Some of that criticism is healthy, and necessary. It will help conservatives hold him accountable to the pledges Trump made to earn the support — grudging, at times — of conservative voters. Some of it is mere sour grapes.
Regardless, we should debate it all, and reason be our guide.
It is fitting that the Inland Empire be the location for a conference on conservative unity — because this is where the fault lines among conservatives were deepest.
This area is what I called “Cruzifornia,” the conservative heartland that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) was counting on for delegates before his campaign-ending loss in Indiana. As I described it last April:
… the Inland Empire, once Ground Zero of the subprime mortgage crisis, is now America’s fastest-growing industrial center. Young families are buying their first homes there, preferring long commutes to prohibitive L.A. prices. They are, against all odds, still optimistic. These are voters with a stake in a failing state and a failed party.
Trump voters tended to live in places where there was no hope for conservatives. Cruz voters still believed. How ironic, and tragic, that the divide was really a fight about whether to believe in our future. That still needs to be addressed.
What is also important is to realize why Trump won: because even people who had lost faith in the system went out and voted.
The Bible tells a similar story — one that Jewish congregations all over the world read this past Saturday. II Kings 7 tells the story of four Israelite lepers cast out of the city of Samaria, which was starving under an Aramean siege. In desperation, they approached the Aramean camp — and scared them away, saving themselves and the city.
Those “deplorables” believed they were doomed — but even then, they took action. That is what happened in America, too, last November.
And conservatives should take note. That is not a constituency the movement can afford to ignore.
Beyond that, the ongoing effort by the left to silence conservative free speech — on campus, and here today — provides a unique rallying point for conservatives to set aside our differences, and fight.
United on that issue, we cannot lose.
It is important, also, for us to reach out, where possible, on a personal level, to those in the conservative movement with whom we may have had disagreements in the past. By doing so, we will be doing more than healing the divide amongst ourselves. We will also be setting the example for an increasingly divided nation, where politics has begun to intrude into the workplace and family life in an aggressive, destructive way.
In forgiveness, and unity, we can show the way.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.