The Base Doesn’t Care About Conservatism

I think Lindsey Graham is about to find out that his predictive powers are not better than Bill Kristol’s:

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), a supporter of [Jeb] Bush, said of Trump: “This man accused George W. Bush of being a liar and suggested he should be impeached. This man embraces [Russian President Vladimir] Putin as a friend. The market in the Republican primary for people who believe that Putin’s a good guy and W. is a liar is pretty damn small.”

It takes a certain kind of determined myopia not to see in retrospect that George W. Bush was a liar of immense proportions. It’s also extremely difficult to ignore the disastrous consequences of his presidency:

“The war in Iraq has been a disaster,” Trump said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “It started the chain of events that leads now to the migration, maybe the destruction of Europe. [Bush] started the war in Iraq. Am I supposed to be a big fan?”

Despite all this, it might not be entirely accurate to say that the base of the GOP agrees with Trump’s assessment of our 43rd president. It’s probably more a matter of them not really caring much one way or the other. They’ve moved on.

I think it’s interesting that the Republican rank-and-file seem impervious to heresies against the Conservative Movement. Trump’s past comments calling for universal health care don’t bother them, nor do they hold his pro-Planned Parenthood funding against him. Was he pro-gay rights and pro-choice in the past? It’s no matter.

He makes a left-wing critique of the Iraq War and President Bush? Apparently, not too many people are offended.

You can go down a growing list. Trump calls for protective tariffs and opposes free trade. He uses eminent domain and strategic bankruptcy to further his business interests. He clearly fakes his piety in an unconvincing and frankly insulting manner. His private life is nearly the opposite of what the family values crowd espouses. He uses expletives and sexual innuendo (who will protect the children?).

What this calls into question is how much the appeal of conservative ideology has ever really explained the cohesiveness of the Republican coalition. Has it always been more a matter of tribalism and a team mentality? Could it be that what unites them is less free enterprise, retro-Christian values and a strong national defense than a shared antipathy for common enemies?

That’s been my working hypothesis for a while now, which is why I thought the Republican Establishment was deluding themselves when they said they’d destroy Trump once they began running ads about his record as anything but a movement conservative.

The people who support Trump are supporting him because he’s the kind of guy who will stand up the president and say that he wasn’t even born here. They don’t care whether he’s an economic protectionist or not. But they damn sure like that he’s willing to tell the Mexican government that he’s going to force them to pay for a Great Wall on the southern border.

In the battle of us vs. them, The Donald has been winning from the start.

Cruz is doing a decent job, too, but he’ll probably never be more than Trump’s caddie.

And, if Cruz does eventually outshine Trump, his appeal will be the exact same. It won’t be his adherence to strict constitutional originalism or his appeal to Christian Dominionists. It will be that Cruz convinces the base that he’ll do a better job than Trump of shattering the liberals.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.