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May 03, 2016

David Frum: Trump Has Exposed Just How "Pitifully" Few Conservatives Exist in the Republican Party; the "Social Issues Veto" is No More

Provocative claims, but almost assuredly correct ones.

I'm not particularly socially conservative (some, but not all that much; conservative-ish moderate) but I've largely adapted my political preferences to reflect the reality, as I previously understood it, in the Republican Party. Though Giuliani was one of my favorite politicians (and I had been a fan of his since he was mob-busting US Attorney), I couldn't really support him for President in 2008.

His pro-choice position would crack the party, I thought. Ergo, he wasn't a serious candidate. Maybe I'd like him as president, but so what? I'd like Wolverine as president. Doesn't mean people will set aside the natural born citizen clause to allow Logan to take office.

But I don't think I'm going to be adapting my views to the socially-conservative mainstream any longer, because I'm not sure these views are actually the Republican mainstream any longer. I knew social conservatism wasn't quite as believed as was claimed; I knew many politicians claimed to be pro-life who were in fact pro-choice, and I knew many of the Beltway class of advisers, think-tank workers, etc. were pro-choice, or more pro-choice than the GOP was as a formal matter. They were certainly more pro-gay (if not always actually pro-gay-marriage).

But the fact that a clear social liberal, who practically no one believes is "pro-life" or even pro-gun, is the runaway favorite for the GOP nomination is a fact with major implications for the party going forward. If Trump's liberalism can be accepted, why can't the liberalism of Giuliani (or a Giuliani type to be named later) be accepted?

I had thought a whole bunch of things were non-negotiable demand points from an important part of the coalition.

Now it seems they either are plenty negotiable, or that part of the coalition isn't as important as I thought.

Donald Trump spoke to genuinely underrepresented people. Concerned that the GOP was captured by theocratic Southerners? Where Republicans are most secular and supposedly most moderate--the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic--Trump has done best. By all indications, he'll do crushingly well in California, too. It's where Republicans are least moderate that he was most resisted: Texas, Utah, and wherever party activists gather in caucuses and conventions....

That's a big takeaway for me: How very much part of the part seems to dislike "Jesusy" candidates like Ted Cruz. Who isn't really all that Jesusy. He's not Sam Brownback, for crying out loud.

And yet he is a big of an anathema because of his social conservatism to many. So many more than I ever anticipated.*

I read an article a while back that the party had four main groupings: moderates/liberals, about 30% of the party; moderately conservative voters, about 30%; very conservative and religious voters, 30%; and a last category, very conservative and very secular voters, about 10%. (Which I guess is my own category.)

I think maybe that 10% is more like 30%. I'm not sure all the people who say they're religious really are all that religious.


[H]ere's something that traditional ideological conservatives will want to consider: Trump rose by shoving them aside. Trump's rise exposed the weakness of social conservatives in particular. For a third of a century, social conservatives imposed a pro-life litmus test on Republican nominees for both presidency and vice presidency. They pulled the party into confrontations over sexuality and religion that many Republican elected leaders would have preferred to avoid. And then, abruptly, poof: The social conservative veto has vanished. New York values have prevailed, with a mighty assist from Jerry Falwell Jr. and other evangelical leaders. It seems unlikely the religious right will return in anything like its awesome previous form. A visibly conscientious objector to the culture wars easily defeated candidates who elevated the defunding of Planned Parenthood to the top of their agenda. That lesson, once demonstrated, won’t soon be forgotten....

The big internal conservative struggle of 2017 will be the fight to write the narrative of how Trump emerged and why he lost. Anti-Trump conservatives will want to say that Trump lost because he wasn’t a "true conservative." But 2016 to date is proposing that "true conservatives" constitute only a pitiful minority of the Republican Party, never mind the country as a whole. Why should any practical politician care about them ever again?

Some of this might be good news for me as it would open up the possibility that the things I care about -- restraining the size of the government, on the theory that the bigger the government, the smaller the citizen it reigns over; reducing spending; following the Constitution for a change -- could advance as the GOP's core issues.

But it seems that most of the party doesn't care much about those things, either.

* One complaint I hear forever about Ted Cruz is that he's just personally dislikable, and people can't get over it. I get that -- I had trouble with that hump myself. Yes, he does speak in a sermony, lawyer-making-an-overwrought-closing-statement way.

But who's left? And -- the alternative is the... apparently much more likable Trump?

At the same time I hear his tone is too sermoney, I hear things like "All I ever hear him talk about is religious stuff like protecting religious liberty."

1, that's not true. 2, that's not something we're all pretty agreed on?

I'm very secular and I'm still very animated by that issue. If the religious aren't allowed to maintain their consciences and beliefs, then the non-religious damnsure won't be.

Eh -- Cruz has defects of charisma that make him a less-than-ideal candidate.

Still and all, I remain shocked at the Preference Cascade by many to declare they simply do not care about religious or social issues at all, and in fact strongly dislike candidates even playing in that field.

A Few Points: Pro-life Trump supporters are making several points in the comments. Let me respond to them, or my paraphrase of them.

"There are more important things to worry about at the moment, like protecting the integrity of the nation," is the general claim.

Understood -- and I agree. Pro-lifers are being, they say, tactical here, and reasonable about what can and cannot be done.

Here's the problem with that: If you want to maximize your leverage in political negotiations, you really have to establish you're unreasonable on the issue, and will not compromise -- if your demands are not met, you'll walk.

So yes, it's great to see pro-lifers are willing to compromise on this. Sure, it demonstrates they are flexible, adaptable, and willing to make tactical compromises for the greater good.

But now we know that going forward -- and you don't just get to say "Our flexible position only applies in 2016, and only to Trump." No, it applies going forward, generally.

We now know that this is not the deal-breaker some of us thought it was.

Another claim:

"Well, the GOP-e has sold us out again and again on the issue. We don't expect anyone to do anything about our cause, so why not Trump?"

This is, like the last claim, fine as a defense of the self -- "I'm reacting reasonably to the actual facts of the world" -- but it's not a good defense of the position.

Once again, the hand is now tipped that pro-lifers don't expect much and don't actually demand much. They are "reasonable" and get the adverse cultural situation they're in.

But once again, this just is a reason why the rest of the party doesn't have to adopt this issue as their own any more. It's not a disputation of the fact that the party no longer has to be pro-life.

Just an explanation why that is.

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posted by Ace at 03:40 PM

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