TO WHAT EXTENT HAS CONSERVATISM BECOME TRUMPISM?
Let me open this brief post with a caveat. I do not want to see anyone hacked by anyone, let alone conservatives hacked by Russians under Putin’s direction. This post is not intended to embrace Russian meddling in our political process just because the target, in this case, happens to be conservatives.
That being said, there was a certain amount of satisfaction when I saw the following story in the New York Times.
Again, I wasn’t happy that conservative organizations were hacked. That’s not good. However, it’s rare that natural experiments come along to test our political assumptions.
Back in May of 2016, when the Republican Primaries were coming to an ignominious close, I concluded that the Republican Party was now the “Party of Trump.” Dr. Moreau’s monsters had found their leader and pounded the final nail into the party of Lincoln, even the party of Reagan.
Since then, I’ve experienced over two years of nausea inducing fatalism when it comes to the Republicans, if not our nation as a whole. Conservatives have, it seems, lined up in neat columns behind their leader like something out of a Leni Riefenstahl movie. Even my conservative friends who claimed that they didn’t like The Orange Don or anything he stands for, but they had to vote for him because…you know–Hillary… now rush to his defense, spread his propaganda and rarely ever criticize him for any reason. The few conservative critics out there are now pariahs to the conservative movement and to the GOP. Some have even left the party. More and more, as far as I can see, Trump is the indispensable figure in the Republican Party and the corresponding conservative movement.
So is this a real phenomenon, or just the distorted worldview of a biased observer? Is Trump really the central unifying figure of the contemporary conservative movement, or is this just an artifact of his position and the volume of press The Orange Don receives by necessity? These questions are not insignificant.
Now we have a test case. Vladimir Putin’s cyber minions have been caught hacking conservative groups that express anti-Trump views. How will conservatives respond, and what can this tell us about the American right?
Of course, we know that the right couldn’t care less about Russian trespasses against Democrats and the political left. Hell, some even condone these actions. But how will they respond when the victim is a conservative group? That response should indicate the depth of Trumpism in the conservative movement.
If the right identifies with the conservative movement in general, one should suspect that any trespass against their own organizations would come with outrage. To be certain, this would be justifiable outrage. It’s intrinsic to our desire to protect those groups that correspond with our identity. Acting against our affiliated groups, even larger reference groups, is akin to an attack against our selves.
Additionally, if there is anything conservatives do well, it’s outrage. Case in point, every time Hillary is mentioned. Just bring up Nancy Pelosi in a conversation with your conservative uncle the next time you see him. Outrage is most of the conservative movement’s DNA.
This should hold even though the intent was an attack on groups critical of a conservative leader. If anything, the predicted outrage might track along a fissure that exists between mainline conservatives and Trump supporters. This is the most interesting and dynamic possibility. If there is a significant debate, we should predict a largely split sense of outrage. The relative noise and feedback can reveal the depth of Trump as an identifier within the conservative movement. Exactly where are the divisions?
More likely, however, I think what we will see is a great “ho hum” among conservatives. If my analysis is correct, that the GOP is the party of Trump, and the corresponding conservative movement has been subsumed by “Trumpism” then we should expect a muted response. After all, those who were targeted will not represent the “true ideals” of the conservative movement as defined by the dominant coalition, the Trumpists. What happened to these groups will be considered outside of the the moral circle of a reference group that is identified less with traditional conservatism and more with Trump’s monstrous right-wingnuttery.
So this latest Russian attack stands as a test against three possible propositions:
- The right identifies with conservatism, therefore we can expect broad outrage.
- The right is split between traditionalists and Trumpism, therefore we can expect some outrage from conservatives.
- The right identifies with Trump and Trumpism, therefore we can expect crickets.
My hypothesis is the third proposition.
Let’s see how it works out.
I hope I’m wrong.