Many of America’s leading conservative writers, thinkers, political thinkers feel alienated, confused, and betrayed by the rise of Donald Trump. They feel cast out of a familiar political home—rejected by longtime allies. Friendships that once seemed stronger than politics have frayed or broken. They eloquently speak and publish their dismay, anguish, and sense of loss. Here is Pete Wehner, a veteran of three Republican administrations, in the New York Times:
What makes this moment so unusual is that the ruptures are occurring among people who have for years been political allies, whose friendships were forged through common battles, often standing shoulder to shoulder.
I sympathize. I found myself in a similar place a half-dozen years ago. In my case, it was the Tea Party of 2009-2010 that I couldn’t accept. People I had known, trusted, and admired for years lurched toward a dangerous and self-defeating radicalism. When I could not follow the lurch, I would lose a job and friends and find myself consigned to a strange unmentionable unpersonhood by people with whom I’d worked for two decades. I know well the price of the policy I’m recommending. And I also know that—despite the American faith in happy endings—the rewards of politics don’t usually go to those who do the right thing. They’re more often scooped up by those who arrive on the scene just after the right thing is done. Throughout the 2015-2016 season, I’ve often had the déjà experience of being presented with ideas—and even phrases—that I published half a dozen years ago, as if they were brave and new. As Tom Wolfe wisely said, “It’s no good being even ten minutes ahead of the times.”
Donald Trump has done a lot to change the times. A shrewd friend, active in the Republican donor community, described Trump as the political equivalent of a chemical accelerant, hastening events that were likely to happen anyway. The plutocratic cast of Republican politics since 2009 was unsustainable in a country where the rewards of economic growth seem to bypass so many people. It was predictable, too, that the former ethnic majority would resist further demographic changes that reduced its political power and threatened to redistribute public resources to its detriment. If the former Republican leadership had been more responsive to the needs of its voters and less swayed by the demands of its donors, the party might have changed from within. Now it’s the target of a hostile takeover that will stamp the TRUMP brand as indelibly upon it as it was once stamped upon the cityscape of Atlantic City. That branding ended in ruin for Atlantic City, and the GOP is unlikely to fare better.
The job ahead, post-November, is to build a new kind of conservative politics—a politics with a broader social appeal than the entrepreneur worship of the past few years—that offers less toxic and futile answers than those heard from Donald Trump. Yuval Levin writes eloquently about what this new politics should look like in his important new book, The Fractured Republic.
Rather than decrying the collapse of moral order, we must draw people’s eyes and hearts to the alternative: to the vast and beautiful “yes” for the sake of which an occasional narrow and insistent “no” is required. We can do this with arguments up to a point, but ultimately the case for an alternative that might alleviate the loneliness and brokenness evident in our culture requires attractive examples of that alternative in practice …
The Trump campaign is a product of the moral collapse Levin discerns. It is built on some of the worst elements in American public life. It opens the door of American politics to the same kind of sinister influence from Vladimir Putin’s Russia that is being felt in France, Germany, Italy, and many smaller countries of the European Union. It preys upon the feelings of betrayal and loss—some justified, some not—so widespread in the poorer parts of white America. Trump has come so far because of the failings and self-seeking of Republican leaders, but he offers in their place only more glaring self-seeking and the certainty of even worse failures ahead.