With Donald Trump’s decisive win in the Indiana primary on Tuesday, most of the anti-Trump forces are crumbling, ready to acquiesce to the prospect that the Republican front-runner will win his party’s nomination.
Yet even after Senator Ted Cruz of Texas suspended his campaign late Tuesday, a faction of conservatives refuses to make peace with Trump. These conservatives are ready either to sit out the election or vote for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
For the political right, the issue is not just the immediate problems with Trump -- his questionable conservatism, his unpredictability, his boorishness -- but the long-term damage he might do to their movement. They so prize the conservative principles of small government, traditional values and free-market economics that they see it as worth risking another four years of liberalism to preserve the Republican Party and “real” conservatism.
Trump, in their view, is not a true believer. Should he carry the banner of conservatism into the White House, this segment of the GOP believes, it would only discredit the right. For them, Trump would be deploying moderate GOP policies that are bound to fail.
“I can’t vote for a progressive,” said commentator Glenn Beck in December. “I can't vote for Hillary [Clinton], and I can't vote for him. If they put Donald Trump in … if that's what the people want, you are going to see an end to the Republican Party. … There'll just be nothing left.”
This thinking diminishes the importance of the next four years in favor of a longer game -- the future of the conservative movement. The right has fought, and largely failed, to stop the expansion of government, which grew under both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and restore strong traditional values. In this struggle, a single Clinton term is nothing next to defeating liberalism over the long haul.
“If Trump were elected,” wrote Erick Erickson, the conservative founder of Red State, on the website The Resurgent, “portions of the conservative movement would compromise the movement to be one degree from Donald Trump. The intellectual institutions on which we have made our case for limited government and freedom would crumble.”
George Will speaks for many of these steadfast conservatives when he compares Trump supporters to traitors who collaborate with an occupying enemy.
“Republican quislings,” Will wrote in his April 29 Washington Post op-ed column, “will multiply, slinking into support of the most anti-conservative presidential aspirant in their party’s history.”
Will insists the right must stand its ground if Trump wins the nomination. One crucial task would be “to help him lose 50 states.”
Veteran conservatives view Trump as consumed with hatred. They worry that Trump’s surly nastiness would help confirm the liberal view that conservatives are heartless and use their philosophy to rationalize baser motives.
Though many Republicans embrace the presumptive nominee because they feel he can get things done in gridlocked Washington, the right feels he will hasten the destruction of their movement. Because Trump lacks an understanding of the principles that undergird conservatism, they feel, he won’t be able to explain them in a way that can expand its base.
In addition, as Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, argued this week, Trump is “trading in crackpot conspiracy theories,” like his suggestion that Cruz’s father was somehow in cahoots with Lee Harvey Oswald in the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
“But of course this is the same man who, during this presidential campaign, accused George W. Bush of knowingly lying about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction in order to justify the Iraq war,” Kristol wrote. “This is the same man who, in the previous presidential campaign cycle, trafficked in conspiracy theories about Barack Obama's birth certificate. This is a man whose temperament and character render him unfit to be president.”
Some #NeverTrump conservatives oppose him because of a single, disqualifying issue.
Trump “believes the federal government should fund Planned Parenthood. …” wrote Erickson on The Resurgent. “I have become convinced that Donald Trump’s pro-life conversion is a conversion of convenience. Life is the foremost cause in how I vote. Therefore, I will not be voting for Donald Trump at all. Ever.”
What the stubbornly #NeverTrump crowd knows is that the cruelty and crudeness of the real-estate developer’s approach -- not to mention what they see as his ideological inanity -- could taint conservatism for years, possibly decades. They view the man most famous for deal making as more likely to stake out opening negotiating positions than to assert true conservative policies.
And that, for these conservatives, is worth paying the price of four years of Clinton.
(Keith Koffler is the editor of the website White House Dossier)
The views expressed in this article are not those of Reuters News.