As They Lay Dying

Conservatism is saved, everyone! The stalwart, God-fearing sons of the soil in the Hawkeye State defended the Constitution from that wicked agrarian populist from New York City, the would-be Emperor Trump. As I predicted, Cruz’s win allowed Glenn Beck to preen, and he duly called it the first time he had felt “true victory” since Reagan. Speaking about Reagan from his fantasy White House set, the pasty Beck moaned, “I loved. I adored. I wanted him.” (And they say the alt Right is too gay. . .)

John Podhoretz, who is not actually a person but a tulpa created by anti-Semitic stereotypes given form and reality, was more blunt: “The Jews win!”

National Review took credit for the victory in true Conservatism, Inc. style, by sending out a fundraising email praising its own “bold and intelligent stand” against Trump. It mocked Trump’s claim NR was dying by saying: “Friends, we have been ‘dying, dying’ for 60 years. And we intend to keep on dying for another 60.”

And they are right. The Beltway Right has been dying for 60 years. The “principles” it has to defend against supposed threats like Trump are constantly reinvented, and its sacred “values,” redefined. Forever in retreat, failing to even conserve the nation itself, Conservatism, Inc. allows the sophists to eke out a living while running out the clock on Western Civilization. If you can’t get a real job and are too cowardly to act in defense of your own people, you and your silly little friends can pass around notes about how the “conservatism” that once half-heartedly defended Southern segregation can now goofily champion the GOP as the “Party of Civil Rights.”

But National Review is right in that even a dying deity has power. This fetid Corpse God will eternally rot away in its Northern Virginia mausoleum, the tributes of donors and the ritual sacrifices of its own followers feeding its eternal death throes. There will always be a “conservative” movement of some kind. It may even be in power. The model the American Right seems to want to follow is the Conservative Party in the UK, where flabby castrati hand over their civilization to existential enemies but exploit the carefully channeled outrage of their constituents to enjoy the spoils of office and the illusion of real power.

This is not to say the kosher conservatives lack influence. They may be impotent when it comes to confronting the Left, but they can effectively police the Right. And the Cuckservatives have handicapped Trump, as much as we may hate to admit it. (In turn, the “center-right” in Europe is similarly preventing nationalist parities from gaining power and responding to the Islamic invasion.)

Though Trump remains the national frontrunner in most polls, he has lost support as of late from self-styled “very conservative” voters. These were once an important part of his broad-based coalition, drawn to his side not so much because of policy but because of Trump’s ability to enrage the far Left and push back against “political correctness.” Following the defection of many of these supporters, Trump’s remaining strength is from self-defined “moderate” and “liberal” Republicans. Cruz, buoyed by the sudden attacks on Trump as “not a real conservative” and a “liberal,” decisively wins over “very conservative” voters and supporters of the Tea Party.

Luckily for Trump, New Hampshire is an ideal state for his constituency to deliver him a desperately needed victory. However, Marco Rubio is also tapping into some of Trump’s support from the Left. Polls after Iowa show most voters who decided late broke for Marco Rubio, largely because of Rubio’s perceived “electability.” Trump’s coalition is thus being squeezed from two fronts. Moderate Republicans who want to win may defect if they suspect Trump can’t deliver victory, and Cruz appeals to the true-believing “movement conservatives.”

The sudden conservative conventional wisdom that “Trump is a liberal” is a stretch, to say the least. Ted Cruz, the supposed paragon of the movement, spent the vast majority of his campaign shamelessly cozying up to Trump and refusing to criticize him. When Republican candidates like Rubio, Cruz, and Bush can’t even defend their own positions from only a few years ago, it’s absurd to fault Trump’s comments from decades ago. Trump’s stances on taxes, guns, Common Core, and his stated commitment to “repeal and replace” Obamacare place him firmly within the conservative mainstream. Yet the official conservative movement has decisively turned against him.

Russell Kirk famously defined conservatism as the “negation of ideology.” It’s tempting to say contemporary American conservatism has been transformed into an ideological movement in an almost idealized form, with struggling Middle Americans ready to go to war over ethanol subsidies. And Cruz’s superior organization was able to convince voters who were leaning towards Trump to defect because Cruz was more “pure” on the conservative checklist.

But at a deeper level, the reasons why the “very conservative” voters are turning against Trump are less about policy and more about intra-movement politics. Take Steve Deace, for example, an Iowa talk-show host and Washington Times columnist who looks exactly like you would expect; he was euphoric about Trump’s defeat. He boasted: “Forgive me, it’s fun kicking bullies like Mr. Trump in this [sic] shins.” Deace mocked those who don’t understand how “hayseeds” like him believe in an “all powerful God” like Ted Cruz supposedly does. Deace recycled the David Barton theory about America being founded by Christian conservatives and said the Founding Fathers cited the Bible more than any “philosopher.”

What this represents is not just an alternate history of America, but a self-contained alternate reality. And though Trump made some impressive inroads—six months ago, who would have expected Trump to take 2nd in Iowa?—Trump decisively lost evangelicals to Cruz, who responded to the latter’s appeals to unite the “body of Christ.” Trump’s appeal to Christians was that he would protect them from both cultural assaults and Islam. Cruz’s appeal was that he was (supposedly) one of them. The latter approach won. “Signaling” triumphed over an appeal to collective interest. As entrance polls showed a plurality of voters wanted somebody who “shares my values.”

If this sounds familiar, it should. In 2004, evangelicals turned out in huge numbers to support George W. Bush, who was considered one of their own (despite his upbringing and privilege). One of the issues that turned out these voters was the Bush Administration’s supposed support for a Federal Marriage Amendment to ban homosexual marriage. Naturally, once Bush was re-elected, he promptly forgot about this promise and turned his attention to screwing around with their Social Security. Ken Mehlman, the homosexual Jew who led the RNC during this campaign, naturally came out a few years later and began working to legalize homosexual marriage.

There’s no scenario where Cruz actually does something about homosexual marriage. Nor is there any scenario where he can really do more about abortion than any other Republican president. But many evangelicals want to see one of their own as a kind of exemplar of their values. “Consistent conservatism,” in practice, means signaling on moral issues and delivering on the practical concessions demanded by the Donor Class. It means a willingness to compromise on issues like trade and immigration and the desire to go to the mat on cuts to Medicare. And if the average evangelical’s standard of living continues to decline and their jobs are given to foreigners—well, that’s just more proof the End Times are coming, right?

There’s condescension involved here, an echo of Barack Obama’s denigration of those who “cling to their guns and religion.” But at a certain point, it’s deserved. Evangelical Christians are so obliviously used as cannon fodder by people who don’t care about them that they truly live up to the term “useful idiots.”

The same pattern holds with “true conservatives” as a whole. Conservatism isn’t a temperament, an ideology, or even really a movement. It’s a subculture. Cues like “ethanol subsidies,” “government spending,” or “the Constitution” function the same way as Cruz’s Scriptural references did among evangelicals. Cruz simply out campaigned Trump, but Trump was also handicapped because he fundamentally doesn’t speak the language.

Indeed, the latest tactic against Trump is Jeb digging up Barbara Bush to lecture him about his language. Perhaps Trump should act more “respectable” by calling Rainbow Rubio a “queer” and threatening to “sock him in his goddamned face.”)

As a historical truth, the Religious Right was created by the retreat from desegregation, just as was modern conservatism. But we need to remember most of those involved in both these subcultures really do believe their own propaganda. Calling someone a #Cuckservative is less likely to fill him with shame than give him a warm, fuzzy feeling that he is remaining true to “principles”—in other words, it grants him that sense of moral superiority he so desperately desires.

Of course, those involved in the Religious Right and conservatism are suckers, perhaps well-meaning suckers, but suckers. Their ideology is simply a product cynically dispensed by those with power. The intellectual backing for it is increasingly thin. And especially when it comes to something like evangelical support for Israel, it’s easy to imagine how quickly the spell can be broken with resources put behind different leaders.

The same holds true for American conservatism. If Pat Buchanan had defeated George H.W. Bush in 1992, the American Right could have been reconstituted. Buchanan spoke the movement’s language (and still does), but his nationalism and dissents from official conservatism on Israel, trade, and war meant that the movement would have been transformed into a distinctly new one with a different focus and character.

Trump is targeted for the same reason. A Trump victory in the GOP would provide a whole new vocabulary and set of cultural signals to unite the American Right. National Review’s war on Buchanan and Trump has never been about defeating the Left (for conservatives have no real interest in defeating the Left). It is about defeating us. As they say in their own fundraising appeals, losing, and slowly “dying,” is just part of the plan.