clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Ross Douthat: Trump's victory proves part of conservatism "was actually a racket"

Libby Nelson is Vox's policy editor, leading coverage of how government action and inaction shape American life. Libby has more than a decade of policy journalism experience, including at Inside Higher Ed and Politico. She joined Vox in 2014.

On the morning after Donald Trump became the presumptive Republican nominee, with the backing of the Republican National Committee, some are declaring the death of the party — but New York Times columnist Ross Douthat argued that it proves that the party's conservative establishment was hollow at the core.

"Part of that movement was actually a racket," he wrote, "and Trumpistas were simply better marks":

Trump proved that many of the party’s moderates and establishmentarians hate the thought of a True Conservative nominee even more than they fear handing the nomination to a proto-fascist grotesque with zero political experience and poor impulse control. That goes for the prominent politicians who refused to endorse Cruz, the prominent donors who sat on their hands once the field narrowed and all the moderate-Republican voters in blue states who turned out to be #NeverCruz first and #NeverTrump less so or even not at all.

Finally, Trump proved that many professional True Conservatives, many of the same people who flayed RINOs and demanded purity throughout the Obama era, were actually just playing a convenient part.

As Republicans debated what to do in the wake of their electoral defeats in 2008 and 2012, a movement of "True Conservatives" held that if Republicans had a real conservative running instead of a squishy moderate, they would have won. Douthat fell on the opposite side, aligning with reformers who wanted to rethink the party's economic policy and pursue new avenues to appeal to voters.

So it's not surprising that he's taking a victory lap now that Republican voters turned out not to be so interested in that vision after all.

But his condemnation of right-wing donors and pundits — including people who professionally advanced the theory that a purer candidate would win — demonstrates how thoroughly the Republican Party failed to stop Trump, even when the other choice was Cruz: a red-blooded, Constitution-quoting, shutdown-threatening force of nature who could have been bred in a vat to fulfill True Conservatives' dreams.

This is why Donald Trump can't win a general election