In this day and age, a crucial question remains unanswered among conservatives in America: What exactly does the Republican Party stand for nowadays and what is it conserving?
This question is of particular relevance amid the proliferation of several anti-Trump Republican groups—The Lincoln Project, Republican Voters Against Trump, and Republicans for the Rule of Law.
There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with debating the merits of Trump’s policies from a conservative slant—but this is not what these groups are doing. They’re openly calling for the election of Joe Biden. It’s one thing to be against Donald Trump. It’s a whole other thing to be for someone diametrically opposed to traditional American values.
In answering the question proposed above, another question becomes relevant: What exactly is conservatism?
The “Concise Oxford Dictionary of Politics” notes that conservatism is “in general terms, a political philosophy which aspires to the preservation of what is thought to be the best in established society, and opposes radical change.”
With a broad brush stroke, this definition tells us that conservatism seeks to preserve “what is thought to be the best.” But what is “best” can have different meanings to different groups.
The divide between populist and libertarian-leaning conservatives on one side, and never-Trumpers and neoconservatives on the other, can thus be summed up as follows: The former seeks to conserve traditional American values—free-market capitalism, community values, decentralization, frugality, love of one’s country, etc. The latter seeks to conserve power, and power at any and all costs.
It is, therefore, not difficult for never-Trump Republicans to call themselves conservatives. What they seek to conserve, however, is far from traditional American values. And, for so long, they’ve been the status quo in the Republican Party. This says a lot.
In one respect, this makes it clear why so-called conservatives like Bill Kristol and Rick Wilson would flock behind Biden’s reelection. After all, Biden’s big government vision for health care, climate change, and infrastructure only helps reinforce the cozy political aristocracy never-Trumpers yearn for.
For the sake of having a political career, never-Trumpers underscore their policy differences with Biden, but never seemed to hold up to them in the past. Republicans are fine with conserving big government, if it’s under their name. Just ask Kristol, who says “small isn’t beautiful.”
Republicans—who so adamantly advocate for charter schools and education reform—don’t seem to have much of a problem with Biden saying “from charter schools to this are gone!” This is no small area of disagreement. A high-quality education is imperative for a society looking to advance Western critical thinking—a framework not commonplace in young Americans nowadays.
Riots and Power
Beyond supporting the more moderate Biden, never-Trumpers don’t seem to have much of a problem with rioters and the mob—not enough to explicitly voice disapproval. This leads to yet another question: If never-Trumpers are attempting to conserve power, why would they approve of groups such as Black Lives Matter—and the mob in general—who seemingly threaten their entire framework?
The answer to this question can be summed up in Kristol’s critique of Trumpian populism. Kristol attacks populism on the grounds that it involves the “inciting of popular passions, a willing to overrule norms and the rule of law, for the sake of making populist appeals, making mean spirited—I would say somewhat nativist appeals—just for the sake of riling people up to get them to your side.”
With this in mind, never-Trumpers know that refusing to discourage mob violence allows them to pool the mob’s passion and use it to preserve power for themselves. They join the egalitarian efforts of the mob, not because they care for its cause, but because it allows them to cast themselves on the right side of history. The “rule of law” holds no significance to them if they can use disorder to their advantage.
These are the conservatives who have held power in the GOP for so long. And Trump’s ascent to the helm of the GOP hasn’t changed them.
Senate Republicans, who are cut from the same establishment cloth as the never-Trumpers, pretend to be pro-Trump. But that attitude wasn’t prevalent a few years back, when Lindsey Graham called Trump a “race baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot.” In 2016, the GOP’s beloved Mitch McConnell spoke quite fondly of Kristol—despite criticizing Kristol’s never-Trumpism.
There’s a good chance that Biden could win the 2020 election. Poll numbers aren’t looking good for Trump. In a similar fashion, the senate is also vulnerable. What implications does this have for the future of conservatism?
The GOP has been a cheerleader for the described “power conservatism” for years. Paradoxically, it also acts as a pseudo-bulwark against the kind of cultural destructionism prevalent in the left today, by slowing its takeover.
Trump has already gutted the GOP to a large extent. The 2020 election could be a wipeout of both Trump and the GOP. Out of these adversities could come opportunities.
It’s arrogantly optimistic, but perhaps this is the moment real conservatives—those interested in conserving an American identity, preserving Western ideals over political power—have been longing for. Perhaps the ruination of the GOP could pave the way to a real conservative party.
All hope is not lost. People such as Tucker Carlson—who hold GOP leaders accountable for their betrayal of traditional American values—are rising in popularity. People are beginning to stand up to mob violence. A pivot is happening and so much is at stake for conservatives.
But conservatives should remember: The GOP’s downfall is as equally risky as it could be fruitful.
Atilla Sulker is the CSO of Blue Ocean, Inc., an augmented reality education company in Tallahassee, Florida. He is also the founder of the Free Speech Society and writes for the Mises Institute and the Washington Examiner. Follow him on Twitter @AtillaSulker.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.