The most interesting feud playing out in conservative politics right now is not the anti-Trump conservatives verses the pro-Trump forces; it’s the split that’s forming among the Never Trump Republicans. The fissure broke open last week between center-right journalists over aspects of the GOP tax bill. The divide highlights what the coming political realignment might look like.
Since Trump became the nominee, journalists from conservative publications like the Weekly Standard and National Review have routinely criticized the president. Other writers like former Bush speechwriters David Frum and Michael Gerson and Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin have also rejected the tenets of Trumpism. However, Frum, Rubin, Gerson and others like Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations have extended their criticism to the GOP Congressional leaders.
Last week, Charles Cooke of National Review attacked Rubin for, essentially, confusing policy with politics. Cooke says that Rubin is reflexively opposed to anything Trump supports, regardless of substance. Frum, the former speechwriter and columnist for The Atlantic, came to Rubin’s defense. Quickly, conservative writers began squabbling and arguing with each other.
Max Boot says he hopes Republicans lose in the midterms, despite having considered himself a Republican his whole life. This morning, Mary Katherine Ham, a conservative commentator and writer at TheFederalist.com, rebuked Rubin for criticizing Republicans for ending the individual mandate for health insurance. The battle lines are sharpening and the attacks are severing long-term alliances.
The movement conservatives are still fighting to save the GOP from Trumpists and are giving Congressional Republicans wide leeway on process issues to get conservative policy enacted. Cooke, Ham and the movement folks will look the other way while Mitch McConnell dismantles Senate protocol to get control of the Supreme Court. They’ll give Lindsey Graham a pass when he defends Donald Trump as long as they get tax reform. They don’t like Trump, but they believe he’s better than a Democrat and still hope that McConnell and Ryan, et al, can control or manipulate him.
Center-right Republicans are leaving the party over Trump and the Congressional Republicans unwilling to hold him accountable. Rubin, Frum, Boot and others are Reagan Republicans who believe in fiscal responsibility but also believe, like Reagan, in the social contract of the New Deal and Great Society. They believe Trump is a fundamental threat to the American experiment and will oppose him at every turn.
This split could reshape both parties. The Rubin-Frum faction represent educated white suburbanites who are increasingly supporting Democrats like Doug Jones. They’re less ideological and more interested in fiscal responsibility both for themselves and the nation. They’re also very disturbed by Trump. While they may not consider themselves Democrats for a long time, they also won’t side with people who accommodate Trump.
The movement conservatives, for their part, will have to figure out how to build an alliance with right-wing populists who will support reducing the social safety net on racial and ethnic grounds. The movement folks are really intellectual elitists who are more comfortable in urban centers run by liberals they pillory than they are in small towns or suburban areas run by Republicans they champion. It will be an uncomfortable alliance to say the least.
The political realignment won’t happen overnight and won’t happen quietly, but the split among conservative journalists, thinkers and commentators gives an idea of what’s coming. Center-right Republicans will slowly move toward the Democratic Party, shifting it more to the middle while ideological conservatives struggle to reconcile an alliance with right-wing populists. The left-wing of the Democratic Party will reject the shift in their party as much as the movement conservatives do in theirs. Both parties will be in turmoil for the next few years, but as long as Trump is in the White House and the GOP is pandering to donors instead of the middle-class, Democrats will gain electoral advantage. It’s the so-called swinging of the pendulum and, after almost 40 years, it’s starting to swing back to the left.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >