Worried that some members of the Republican establishment are getting used to the idea that Donald Trump might win the party’s presidential nomination, the venerable National Review has just published an extraordinary anti-Trump screed.
The magazine – founded by legendary New York conservative William F. Buckley – follows its own tough Trump editorial with submissions from 22 right-leaning thought leaders on the subject of why the reality star/real estate mogul shouldn’t be entrusted with the reins of American power.
Why such concerted opposition? The magazine’s central problem with Mr. Trump seems to be not so much personal as ideological. NR’s editors appear concerned that The Donald’s free-flowing populism could change the very nature of the right end of the US political spectrum. Under President Trump, Mr. Buckley’s old ideas about limited and orderly government might end up in history’s dustbin.
“Trump is a philosophically unmoored political opportunist who would trash the broad conservative ideological consensus within the GOP in favor of a free-floating populism with strong-man overtones,” concludes the NR editorial.
Just to be clear, not all the contributors to the stop-Trump effort appear to be anti-Trump absolutists. Conservative commentator Erick Erickson writes at the start of his NR piece that he’d vote for Trump over Hillary Clinton. A number of the writers say that in their personal experience, Trump is gracious, even fun.
But many raise doubts as to whether Trump is really a person of the right. It has not been that long since he donated to Democrats. He says nice things about single-payer health care.
“For decades, Trump has argued for big government,” writes David McIntosh, president of the low-tax group Club for Growth.
Some contributors charge that Trump is a con man in this regard. Others seem more worried about his constant boasts that the force of his personality is all that’s required to blast through and solve chronic problems.
There’s a hint of the authoritarian in these boasts, according to some of his NR critics. Conservatism believes that government should necessarily be limited, due to its inherent faults. In that sense Trump does not seem conservative at all, writes Weekly Standard editor William Kristol in his NR section.
“Isn’t Trumpism a two-bit Caesarism of a kind that American conservatives have always disdained?” Kristol writes.
Yes, yes, but will all these words have any effect? That may be the crucial question at this point. Trump is tied in Iowa and leads in New Hampshire. He’s got a clear path toward gaining enough momentum that he might be able to power to the nomination.
As for his core voters, an anti-Trump cover piece in an intellectual magazine will probably make them like him more. One of Trump’s core messages is contempt for those who oppose him. That attitude of belligerence is a big part of his appeal.
“National Review is a failing publication that has lost it’s way. It’s circulation is way down w its influence being at an all time low. Sad!” tweeted Trump yesterday after the NR editorial hit the Internet.
It’s possible that the magazine might be able to slow, or even stop, the flight of establishment figures to back Trump instead of rival Ted Cruz, who many elected Republicans loathe.
But the core problem of the anti-Trump movement is not that it has been silent, or that Trump’s faults have gone unaddressed in public settings. It’s that there currently seems no viable candidate alternative. Right now the race is Trump versus Cruz. Voting is about to start, and the establishment has not rallied around its own favorite.
“What is clear is that at least for now, Republican party actors have collectively failed to choose any of the remaining mainstream conservatives – Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie or John Kasich – who would seem to offer an excellent chance of winning the nomination if only party actors could signal to mainstream conservative voters that one of them is the horse to back,” concluded political analyst Jonathan Bernstein in his Bloomberg View column Thursday.