The Conservative Conundrum, and Other Notes

Republican Presidential hopeful Donald Trump speaks during the 2016 Republican Jewish Coalition Presidential Candidates Forum in Washington, DC, December 3, 2015 (AFP Photo/Saul Loeb)

Paul Krugman offers a curious observation:

As many have noted, it’s remarkable how shocked — shocked! — that establishment has been at the success of Donald Trump’s racist, xenophobic campaign. Who knew that this kind of thing would appeal to the party’s base? Isn’t the G.O.P. the party of Ronald Reagan, who sold conservatism with high-minded philosophical messages, like talking about a “strapping young buck” using food stamps to buy T-bone steaks?

Seriously, Republican political strategy has been exploiting racial antagonism, getting working-class whites to despise government because it dares to help Those People, for almost half a century. So it’s amazing to see the party’s elite utterly astonished by the success of a candidate who is just saying outright what they have consistently tried to convey with dog whistles.

We might call it curious not for being obscure, but, rather, for being obvious.

That is to say, despite the blunt force with which reality asserts itself, we are somehow expected to ignore it. The Republican Party, of course, seems very good at ignoring it. Even establishment tools like RedState managing editor Leon H. Wolf are getting in on the act:

Sadly, 35% of our party has decided to abdicate their responsibility as adults to take their civic voting duty seriously, and so the poisonous threat of Trump has completely altered my own personal voting calculus.

And we, too, might try the word, sadly.

Because, sadly, we find ourselves up against a baseline standard that can only break when conservatives need it to; blaming voters, even on those occasions when circumstance otherwise describes it as wholly appropriate, is problematic in the marketplace.

After all, given the generation, at least, spent convincing people to expect elected officials to simply attend the bidding of special interests, railing against “elitists” who tell people what is good for them, Republicans now find themselves at a crossroads by which the wholly appropriate thing to do would be to stand up and tell their voters to get the hell over themselves. We might remind that the conservative axiom telling us government does not, cannot, and should not work is actually a threat, a warning, a clear message about how they will govern if elected. This is the year in which that seems to be chomping the GOP a new somethin’-or-other.

And, you know, if that’s all there was to it, fine, let conservative voters take it out on the Party. But those voters also want to take it out on the country.

Because beneath the surface we find the notion of voter frustration and dissatisfaction something of a deception; Democratic and liberal frustration stems from the government not being able to do enough to help the American people, while conservative unrest arises from the failure of government to deliberately harm people the way Republican voters want.

There is, after all, something of a Prisoner’s Dilemma in effect; the first party to break from the corrosive trends of our political marketplace will get buried come Election Day. But what happens, then? The great Democratic sin is general inefficiency and well-intended buffoonery. The great Republican sin is supremacism. Democrats pitch better health care, stronger voting rights, better income equality, and a better quality of life. Republicans pitch the suppression of women, homosexuals, blacks, Hispanics, and non-Christians … oh, and also tax cuts for the wealthiest among us. Because, you know, there isn’t a problem facing a human being today that can’t be solved by coddling rich people.

Actually, that last can actually be true, but not the way Republicans want. Proposing a world without poverty might seem like utopiate overdose, but there is a difference between acknowledging it isn’t happening today and dedicating one’s efforts to working against such outcomes.

And in the end Republicans have transcended basic juxtaposition. Let us consider the false equivalence of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders; it’s a mystery why the latter would want to play into that myth, but only fools expect reality to make sense. Consider calls to expel Trump from the Party. Or international questions about whether or not he would be allowed to travel there. What in the world does a liberal have to do to raise similar questions?

Actually, it’s a simple answer: Roll hard enough rightward.

That is to say, Sen. Sanders might be promising the political equivalent of cake-frosted puppies and unicorns dropping Dippin’ Dots from the sky, but Democratic voters, for whatever reasons, are willing to give audience and an impressive degree of fair consideration to the candidate who doesn’t really like them all that much. That is to say, liberals aren’t going to kick Sanders out of the contest simply for trying to be too cute and appealing. His political platform isn’t about to fail character tests among our allies. One need not like Bernie or his platform, but neither is he running a campaign based on the appeal of villainy.

There is a basic difference between the fundamental political outlooks of our major parties; Democrats and their supporters are tired of merely holding the line. Conservative frustration, however, stems from a nasty dispute that comes down to whose malice can do the most damage.

And while that might answer Krugman’s amazement, it also highlights the folly of establishment figures trying to blame Republican voters for believing what the politicians told them.


Krugman, Paul. “Twilight of the Apparatchiks”. The New York Times. 26 February 2016.

Wolf, Leon H. “My Endorsement for President”. RedState. 25 February 2016.

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