It’s May and the Republicans still have a convention in July, yet a lot of people are talking as if there is nothing left to do until November 8th. Many folks have resolved to unhappily vote for Trump, or have sworn off voting for him. Before we get carried away and skip ahead six months, let’s take a look back on what the primary has shown us, and think about what there is for conservatives to do before Election Day.
Primary races are always ideologically divided (at least on the Republican side), and it’s hardly shocking to say that this particular race has highlighted some sharp divisions within the GOP. As it stands, we seem to have the Republican leadership (Establishment), the conservatives, and the Trump supporters, for lack of a better name. While there may no longer be other candidates running, don’t for a moment think that the party has coalesced into one homogeneous group. It may be cliché to say, but the GOP is at a turning point and how we handle the next few months will shape the very essence of our party for years to come.
Each of the groups I named has the power to change and influence what the party stands for, and they all have very different ideas of what that should be.
Although Trump’s policy statements have been the most incoherent, I think it is actually the Establishment leadership who has the least clear idea of what they want the party to be. They don’t like Trump because he’s boorish, egotistical, and pushes a host of popular-yet-unpopular issues, like immigration, all the while affirming his vast (I’ve gotten tired of the ‘yuge’ jokes) ignorance of global history and politics. But they also don’t like the conservative wing of the party, denigrating them as religious zealots, gun nuts, and racists. They tell the conservative section of their party over and over again that they’ve got to accept a moderate in order to be electable — that they are just too extreme. So, it’s less that the Establishment is trying to change the party so much as they are trying to keep their conception of the party the same. They don’t want to deal with immigration, they don’t want to deal with taxes, and they don’t want to address restraining government power. What they do not want most of all is to lose power.
Trump, on the other hand, wants to enforce borders, help businesses (in ways that may or may not be synonymous with crony capitalism), and make America a global superpower that other countries don’t mess with. Aside from ‘making deals,’ Trump may be fuzzy on how we do all this (and seems even more fuzzy on what powers the president actually has), but he is, at least, very clear on what he wants. Trump wants to win.
The conservatives want to restore the primacy of the Constitution. They want smaller government, lower taxes, and religious freedom—whether it comes to insurance for birth control or cake baking. They want a party that stands up for the Constitution and their beliefs instead of calling them extremists or crazy. I don’t think most of them care about winning for winning’s sake, but more because winning would let them go back to minding their own business, with the government—and everyone else—staying out of it.
While only Trump remains as a candidate, these three philosophies still stand in stark opposition to one another. As conservatives, we cannot afford to end the fight for our principles just because there are no other candidates running. That means taking on both Trump and the Establishment’s ideologies. Over the coming weeks we’ll hear cries, again and again, for coming together, both from the Establishment and from Trump supporters (maybe not from Trump himself—in his mind, I think, we now owe him our allegiance). But our highest goal should not be party unity: It should be advancing the causes of conservatism and the Constitution because we believe those things lead to freedom and justice for, not just the majority of people, but for everyone.
We need to continue to articulate what we believe and why, and we need to continue to criticize both Trump and the Establishment. The rise and fall of ideas does not rest in one candidate to represent them, but in everyone who holds onto them and continues to speak them out in the public sphere.