After his horrendous remarks last July about Vietnam War hero John McCain, many Republicans — myself included — figured it would be the end of Donald Trump. We believed that Trump’s atrocious comments about the senior U.S. senator from Arizona and former Republican presidential nominee would be intolerable to an American electorate that holds veterans in the highest esteem. McCain was a man, after all, who chose to remain in captivity in a brutal Vietnamese prison camp rather than take advantage of his family’s political connections.
We were wrong.
Despite unencumbered gaffes, rampant violence and near universal condemnation from most principled conservatives, Trump remained at the top of the polls, leaving Republicans dismayed by what has been perceived as a hostile takeover of a party that stands for limited government, free enterprise and individual liberty.
Trump, who espouses no such principles and makes no effort to feign them, remains utterly uninterested in courting conservatives or running a Republican campaign or even working within the GOP primary process, even as he seeks the party’s nomination.
With each daily political catastrophe that would have tanked any other campaign, the media openly mocked conservatives praying that this or that straw would break the camel’s back.
“Maybe this will end Donald Trump,” they predictably quipped in unison on social media. “That’ll do it!”
Trump’s dominance was inevitable because he was, at least to those who rely upon tired stereotypes and lazy surface observations, emblematic of the core of conservatism: nativism, racism, ignorance and impulse.
Never mind U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), Gov. Nikki Haley (R-S.C.) or U.S. Rep. Mia Love (R-Utah). To those who don’t know or understand conservatism, Trump’s movement was the real GOP.
To those who don’t know or understand conservatism, Trump’s movement was the real GOP
It’s abundantly obvious that Trump benefited from nonstop coverage by the media, legitimizing him, and with him, the most rancid elements within his fan base. Whether it was true or not, the media sought to portray Trump as the GOP itself, lapping up their “proof” of how decrepit and despicable they already believed Republicans to be.
As the campaign cycle dragged on, some in the media actually undermined their own efforts by breathlessly covering Trump’s every utterance. In doing so, they exposed a significant portion of the American population to his madness, creating a public suddenly informed that the reality television star was an outlier to mainstream conservative thought and repulsed by his barbarianism. Over time, it became unfathomable for most Americans, including most Republicans, to support him.
Mass movements like Trump’s have historically generated very little good. They require their followers to suspend belief in anything, instead pledging fealty to the mob over any semblance of principles. In such chaos, the group becomes more important than the autonomy of the individual, and thus, he is forced to surrender his ability to think freely and choose for himself.
Trump’s meteoric rise is an example of just that. Look no further than the unflinching loyalty of his disciples, who have been repeatedly presented with evidence of Trump’s inconsistency, immorality and downright stupidity but do not budge an inch in their support of him. Astonishingly, they do not perceive the overt condescension with which Trump instinctively approaches them — from his promises of dictatorship over them to his boasts of their blind devotion to him, even if he were to start shooting people in midtown Manhattan.
But just as history offers warnings of the dangers of mass movements from the French Revolution to Marxism, it also reminds us of their more powerful counterpart: incrementalism. Even within our own national story, the most permanent and worthwhile transformations, including the American Revolution and the fight for civil rights, have relied upon the gradual persuasion of the masses. By articulating compelling ideas and appealing to the decency of the people, America’s greatest heroes created the country we have today.
Over time, it became unfathomable for most Americans, including most Republicans, to support him
Perhaps that’s what we’re seeing here. Sure, Trump might have detonated an explosion, but eventually the smoke began to clear. As it lifted, America saw who he really was: a very small man unworthy of the most important job in the world.
Little by little, voters responded. First, they were either unaware or uninterested in the machinations of the political cycle. Next, they were amused by the spectacle. Then, Trump horrified them. Routinely. Finally, they rejected him — in their families, in their workplaces, in their social circles, within popular culture and ultimately, at the ballot box.
Trump’s blast was loud and destructive — but it was temporary. Conservatives decided to fight fire with fire, and though the desired results were not instantaneous, they lit the match and fanned the flames anyway.
Now, the anti-Trump brushfire, however meek at its first spark, has grown into a fiery blaze that cannot be ignored.
Ellen Carmichael is a senior writer for Opportunity Lives. Follow her on Twitter @ellencarmichael.