National Review's cover assault against Donald Trump is anchored by a masthead editorial dedicated to the thesis that conservatives should oppose Trump because Trump is "a philosophically unmoored political opportunist" whose "politics are those of an averagely well-informed businessman" with "no interest in limiting government, in reforming entitlements, or in the Constitution."
It's a solid argument.
If you are a dedicated member of the conservative movement in the United States of America as it's existed for the past 20 years or so, you have in front of you a variety of other potential presidents who have also been dedicated members of said movement. Jeb Bush and Chris Christie and Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz and John Kasich have their disagreements, but they've all been laboring on behalf of the same movement and pay homage to the same set of institutions and ideas. Trump doesn't, really.
The problem here is that the authenticity of Trump’s conservatism or the orthodoxy of his ideological commitments isn’t really in dispute.
Trump isn't an orthodox conservative, but he's also not a fake conservative. He's someone who is speaking to the Republican Party rank and file and telling them that orthodox conservative politics has failed and that what’s needed instead is a new form of conservative populism focused more explicitly on American nationalism and white Christians’ ethnic and sectarian grievances.
And here’s where the editorial falls flat.
It doesn’t argue that some other candidate is going to do a better job of addressing white working-class concerns about their relative decline in the 21st-century United States of America. Nor does it argue that the GOP has some other path to victory that doesn’t involve increasing its appeal to Trump’s grievance constituency.
This is the box the Republican Party has been in since the summer of 2015. After Mitt Romney’s defeat in 2012, the party leadership took stock of the situation and decided that the best path forward was to embrace comprehensive immigration reform in an effort to boost the party’s appeal to Latinos and affluent whites.
But congressional Republican leaders, under pressure from backbenchers who were under pressure from talk radio and grassroots activists, abandoned that in favor of the idea of trying to appeal to a bloc of "missing white voters" roughly characterized as the old Ross Perot constituency. Trump found them. And orthodox conservatives have no better ideas than his for how to give voice to their concerns.
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