On Saturday, National Review senior editor Jonah Goldberg penned a controversial column in which he rejected Donald Trump and his followers from the conservative movement. “Well, if this is the conservative movement now, I guess you’re going to have to count me out,” Goldberg writes.
Goldberg goes on to suggest that the embrace of Trump perverts conservatism itself, broadening the definition of the movement in order to include Trump.
Goldberg, whom I consider a friend and a brilliant commentator, is right to label Trump insufficiently conservative. I have specifically argued that Trump ought not be the nominee thanks to his insufficient conservatism—so has Michelle Malkin, so have numerous other conservative commentators.
But here is the sad truth: Many of the same people appalled by Trump made Trump’s candidacy possible.
Trump is a product of a conservatism-less Republicanism, prepared for and championed by the intellectual elites who told us to ignore Mitt Romney’s creation of Romneycare and John McCain’s campaign finance reform, who told conservatives to shut up and get in line, who explained that conservatives had to throw over Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and his government shutdowns in favor of Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and his pathological inability to take a hard stand against President Obama using the tools at his disposal.
Over at National Review, even as Goldberg condemns Trump for his non-conservatism, another columnist simultaneously urges a ticket with Governor “God Told Me To Use Obamacare Money To Expand Medicaid” John Kasich (R-OH) and Sen. Marco “Immigration Gang of Eight” Rubio (R-FL). Goldberg himself championed Romney’s candidacy because he wasn’t a conservative, writing back in 2012:
Even if Romney is a Potemkin conservative (a claim I think has merit but is also exaggerated), there is an instrumental case to be made for him: It is better to have a president who owes you than to have one who claims to own you. A President Romney would be on a very short leash.
Why wouldn’t the same logic apply to Trump?
And while Goldberg today raps Trump on the knuckles for his support of socialized medicine, going so far as to label opposition to such policy a “core tenet of American conservatism from Day One,” Goldberg used Romneycare as a point in favor of Romney in 2012: “He is a man of duty and purpose. He was told to ‘fix’ health care in ways Massachusetts would like… He did it all. The man does his assignments.”
Goldberg today says that Trump doesn’t deserve to be a part of the conservative movement, and his followers have excised themselves from the conservative community. But in 2012, he warned that anyone saying the same of Mitt Romney threatened the possibility of conservative victory. In 2012, Goldberg explicitly opposed purges and purity tests:
That’s certainly reason enough to be mad at the establishment. But replacing the current leadership with even more ardent, passionate and uncompromising conservatives is far from a guaranteed formula for making the Republican Party more popular or powerful. To do that, the GOP needs to persuade voters to become a little more conservative, not to hector already-conservative politicians to become even more pure as they go snipe-hunting for the Rockefeller Republicans.
What requirements did Mitt Romney, and John Kasich, and John McCain, and Mitch McConnell fulfill that Trump does not? Goldberg is right that Trump has “no ideological guardrails whatsoever” when it comes to taxes and “knows less than most halfway-decent DC interns about foreign policy.” Goldberg could have added that Trump has made an enormous amount of money utilizing eminent domain, that he supports affirmative action, and that he opposes free trade, among other pernicious positions. There is a reason that this weekend full-fledged economic idiot Paul Krugman endorsed Trump’s economic policies.
The question is: Why are so many Republicans backing him? There are two answers: first, he’s tough on illegal immigration, the only issue many conservatives believe matters. The second answer is more telling, however: Trump has heavy support because Republicans rejected ideological purity a long time ago. And here’s the irony: Goldberg and others can’t call Tea Partiers to Jesus on Trump because, according to polls, Tea Partiers don’t support Trump in outsized numbers. The reality is that the same people who don’t like ideological litmus tests support Trump. Just a few weeks back, the Washington Post concluded that Trump’s fans “are more moderate than Tea Partiers were,” significantly more likely to call themselves Republicans than Tea Partiers were, far younger and less religious and blue collar than Tea Partiers.
As Sallah from Raiders of the Lost Ark would put it, “Jonah, you’re digging in the wrong place.”
If you want to target Trump supporters for failing to take conservatism seriously, try starting with those who don’t take conservatism seriously. Most of them were trained in the acceptability of “victory before conservatism” Republicanism by the some of the same folks now deriding the poll-leading Trump.
I’ve lived this story before: I’m from California. Trump is Arnold Schwarzenegger without the Austrian accent. He’s a know-nothing with a huge name and a Teflon personality, and people get behind him because he’s a celebrity and because victory matters more than principle. I know that’s so, because I made the same mistake with regard to Schwarzenegger, explicitly endorsing him in spite of his insufficient conservatism on the grounds that voters in California would get used to voting Republican.
That was a failure. Schwarzenegger was terrible, and what followed him was a shift to radical leftism unthinkable in the early days of his candidacy. I learned that lesson, and in January 2012, I said that the conservative embrace of Mitt Romney would pervert the movement itself, in the same way Goldberg now accuses Trump of perverting conservatism:
Yes, defeating horrible politicians like Barack Obama is the top goal — but that doesn’t justify redefining conservatism entirely…. When we deliberately broaden conservatism to encompass government-forced purchase of health insurance or raising taxes or appointing liberal judges or enforcing same-sex marriage or using taxpayer money to bail out business or pushing trade barriers, we destroy conservatism from within. If we do that, why would our politicians even bother to pay lip service to the standard?
Like Goldberg, I fear the same from Trump: I fear that he’ll be a wild card with no governing principle, that even if he were to win, he’d irrevocably split conservatism. But I also recognize that Trump isn’t a departure for Republicans abandoning principle: he’s the political love child of Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, a combination of the non-conservative “victory mentality” and the arrogance of a dictatorial left many conservatives want to see countered with fire.
In sum, I’m happy to welcome establishment Republicans who want to revivify conservative litmus tests to the party. But from now on, let’s be consistent: if we’re going to oust Trump based on his ideology, those requirements can’t be waived for others.
Ben Shapiro is Senior Editor-At-Large of Breitbart News and The New York Times bestselling author, most recently, of the book, The People vs. Barack Obama: The Criminal Case Against The Obama Administration (Threshold Editions, June 10, 2014). Follow Ben Shapiro on Twitter @benshapiro.