Conservatism is dying. None of us want to hear it, let alone admit it, but the Donald Trump phenomenon represents this death in multiple ways. As the Republican Party reverses its course from heading towards conservatism two years ago to embracing populism today, we are faced with a catastrophic scenario that makes the old school neocon-fueled Republican Establishment look like the not-so-bad-guys.
We’ve seen Trump act as a gravity well for many who have been caught by its sales pitch. It’s not one side or the other that is falling in. From former-conservative Sarah Palin to former-pragmatist Bob Dole, the list of people captivated by this new wave of populism is growing at an alarming rate. Most of them don’t even know why because there are multiple reasons for it happening. Some are embracing it as the rallying cry to beat the Democrats no matter what. Others are hearing about it all for the first time through Trump and associating him with conservatism, thus polluting their views and making them unwittingly embrace populist ideas. Then, there are those who think they have a better agenda, who believe that can use populism to their advantage for now and then revert back to the right when appropriate.
If this were Star Wars, populism would be the dark side of the force. It’s not liberalism or even mainstream moderate perspectives that are risky. With the populist mindset, one gets sucked into believing they can convert back when in reality it’s harder to come back from populism than to convert from pure liberalism. It’s too enticing because it plays on the fears of the electorate rather than the goals of helping the country to return from the brink.
It’s important for people to understand that populism cannot work in America. We have proof of that in the Senate and Congress right now as many of those who once fought for ideological conservatism have shifted to self-preserving populism. They know they shouldn’t have given President Obama a blank check but they feared the repercussions. They know they should oppose the President’s initiatives but they act like they don’t have a majority in the House and the Senate. They watch Trump promise to increase ethanol mandates in order to cater to Big Corn and the Governor of Iowa, but instead of chastising him, they cheer. We already have a mild form populism at play in Congress and even that little bit is blurring the lines. It’s hard to tell where Nancy Pelosi ends and Paul Ryan begins.
Imagine a world with principled conservatives calling the shots. Would many people feel uncomfortable following values and strong results rather than the misguided public opinion on heavy topics? Absolutely. President Reagan had to deal with it. In Congress, Newt Gingrich had to deal with it. There’s a reason that conservatism made things happen for the mid-90s Congress and the last great Statesman to sit in the Oval Office. That reason is conservatism. They didn’t cave to the media, liberals, and the Republican Establishment to bend towards the mushy middle. They stayed the course and stuff got done.
Populism thrives off of fear. It’s governing by knee-jerk reactions. There are many who are saying the people like Mark Levin, Rush Limbaugh, Ben Shapiro, the 22 conservatives from the National Review, and others who support conservatism are part of the out-of-touch intelligentsia. Those who believe this are being manipulated by Trump, the media, and the Republican Establishment to think that “we the people” know better how to fix the country and that the intelligentsia has no idea. This is ludicrous. I’m not suggesting that the American people are stupid, but in scenarios such as handling the Islamic State, the solution is not that we should “bomb the sh-t out of them.” When it comes to fixing our economic woes, the solution is not to hand the reigns over to someone who knows how to file four bankruptcies and run every endeavor he’s ever attempted into the ground other than real estate and reality TV.
Populism doesn’t work because it’s guided by a decision-making perspective that works from as little information as possible. For example, one possible conservative perspective on the Islamic State would be to determine how to utilize the Kurdish Pershmerga with or without the support of Iraq’s government while keeping Turkey confident that it won’t carry over to become assistance for the PKK. On the other side, we’d need to abandon support for the Syrian al Qaeda rebels and turn towards working with Russia and the Syrian government to prevent the Islamic State from spreading to the west. The geopolitical ramifications are high and the dynamic includes more moving parts than Trump has ever had to attempt to understand. Hopefully, it wouldn’t involve the nuclear triad since he’s not sure which button is which.
The populist strategy for fighting the Islamic State is to bomb the sh-t out of them, take Iraq’s oil, and kill the families of the terrorists. There are times when the simple answer is the right answer. In fact, this is the case in most aspects of business and it’s why Donald Trump has thrived at real estate. When the dynamic became more complicated in other endeavors, he couldn’t handle it. He sold a bunch of people on the idea that he would be the best leader of an airline. The dynamic was too complex for him and it failed in three years.
Simpler can be better, but not with running an airline. Unfortunately, running the United States is exponentially more complex than running an airline. Trump was out of his league trying to take the populist approach to running an airline, a mortgage company, a football team, an adult beverage product line… pretty much every time he’s anything more complex than the moderately-complicated real estate deals he’s done has ended in complete and utter failure. Hundreds of people lost money from him. Thousand of people lost jobs in his failures. He came out relatively unscathed because he knows when to hit the eject button.
There’s no eject button in the White House.
The hardest thing to accept is that conservatism has been on the rise. After failed attempts by John McCain and Mitt Romney to sell their moderate wares to voters, it seemed like the Republican party was finally ready to listen to reason and vote conservative. We were so close. This was our year. A better America is within our grasp and it’s in the process of being stolen away by bad ideas and a Pied Piper’s sales pitch.
The concept of populism makes sense on the surface. However, an inch below the surface its merits break down more quickly than socialism or even communism. If populism worked, we’d have a pure Democracy rather than a Republic. Conservatism is the only ideology that has been proven to handle the crisis in America today and it’s quickly being snuffed out by a master salesman. A Trump nomination would mark the end of conservatism just when it was on the verge of a breakthrough.