This was a comment for a post of Vox’s that got too long. Maybe I’ll write more about this topic of what “conservatism” as a political movement really is (was) and why it’s bound to lose. But here’s a major reason, riffing off another comment there:
Conservatives refuse to entertain the thought that the left means business, and plays for keeps.
Conservatives, most being at least nominally Christian, believe that “the truth will set you free,” but they mistakenly apply that to politics and social issues, instead of only faith where it belongs.
Thing is, no one’s born politically conservative, and they don’t teach it in schools. You might be born with a conservative temperament in a conservative family and neighborhood, but then you get a steady diet of liberalism from society as you grow up. So usually, conservatism is something you discover later. (This is probably why Republican politicians seem so fake, by the way. Their bios will talk about how they were president of their Young Republicans chapter by age 15, or as one Cruz ad said, spending “a lifetime fighting for conservative ideals.” Normal people don’t work that way.)
Conservatism (ditto libertarianism) comes in “Aha!” moments later in life, when you read something or listen to someone and it clicks and you say, “Well, of course that’s how it works. It’s so obvious. Of course people will be lazy and unproductive if you feed them from the common weal. Of course more private gun ownership leads to less crime.” Or whatever that moment of clarity is about. And since it’s now so obvious to you, it seems like it should be obvious to others if they would just listen.
So you don’t need to deport anyone, or even defeat anyone, really — all those unpleasantries can be avoided — you just need to spread the Good Word of Conservatism.
And what’s better for sharing the Word than a big ol’ revival tent? It needs to be really big, so you can get all the people in there who think conservatism is their enemy: the freaks and libertines, the socialists, the illegal invaders, the recipients of government checks — yep, a realllllly big tent. And you may have to compromise on many things to get all those people to enter your tent long enough to hear the Word. But it’ll all be worth it, because it’ll be easy to roll back those compromises when we’re all one big happy conservative family.
That’s part of what we’re seeing in the Trump frenzy, with basically decent people who have been fighting a losing battle all their political careers saying, “What was wrong with our big-tent-outreach approach?” Well, nothing, except that you consistently lose. There have been two of what might be considered conservative victories in my lifetime: the election of Ronald Reagan (and you could argue how much that had to do with conservative policy stances, and how much because he gave people a sense of pride and hope in America), and the Contract with America in 1994, which was an exciting moral victory that had no lasting effect because they didn’t pass the most important point — term limits.
So now the proletariat of the Republican Party — many of them “gut conservatives” even though they couldn’t pick Russell Kirk out of an NBA lineup — wants to try something different, something that kinda feels a bit like 1980 again, and the elitist leaders don’t want to allow it? Well, screw them. Their way hasn’t worked, doesn’t work, won’t work. We may not get conservative victories from Trump, but we just may. We certainly wouldn’t have gotten them from the same old pack of fools with the same old tactics of strategic retreat.