December 17, 2019 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Actually, No. Trumpism Did Not Replace Conservative Ideology

The former rose from the latter.

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You have noticed by now I’m not invested in any one Democratic candidate (though I have been quite vocal about who should be disqualified). I’m not invested, because my chief concern is beating the incumbent. I’m less concerned about nit-picking Joe Biden’s long and illiberal Senate record, Pete Buttigieg’s employment history at McKinsey & Co., or Elizabeth Warren’s less-than-perfect plan to bring health care to all. I’ve said it before. I’ll keep saying it. Just pick a Democrat. Any Democrat will do.

This open mindset makes space for all sorts of people, even those I’d rather not join forces with, as long as they desire Donald Trump’s defeat. The president is all kinds of horrible. He’s unpopular. He’s almost certainly a criminal in a fantasia of ways. But that doesn’t mean he can’t win. That doesn’t mean the anti-Trump coalition will operate on its own. We must do our part to maintain unity for the republic’s sake.

Rick Wilson, Steve Schmidt and George Conway were for Trumpism before they were against it.

For this reason, I welcome the announcement of the Lincoln Project, an effect “to highlight our country’s story and values, and its people’s sacrifices and obligations,” according to an op-ed in this morning’s Times. Founded by a group of widely known anti-Trump conservative figures, the Lincoln Project hopes to transcend “partisanship and is dedicated to nothing less than preservation of the principles that so many have fought for, on battlefields far from home and within their own communities.”

Coalitions are necessary for electoral victory, but coalitions are by nature fractious. Just because we’re on the same side at the same time doesn’t mean we can trust each other. The op-ed’s authors argue the president and “Trumpism” have replaced the conservatism of the party they once loved. “Trump and his enablers have abandoned conservatism and longstanding Republican principles and replaced it with Trumpism, an empty faith led by a bogus prophet.” They argue that national Republicans are doing more than just going along. “Their defense of him is imbued with an ugliness, a meanness and a willingness to attack and slander those who have shed blood for our country, who have dedicated their lives and careers to its defense and its security, and whose job is to preserve the nation’s status as a beacon of hope” (my italics).

That’s rich, particularly from Rick Wilson, Steve Schmidt and George Conway.

Many of you know Wilson as the author of Everything Trump Touches Dies. Many of you enjoy his commentary for The Daily Beast. What many of you do not know is that Wilson was the chief strategist for Saxby Chambliss, a draft-dodging former US senator from Georgia who defeated a Democratic incumbent in 2002. Chambliss beat Max Cleland with ads suggesting the one-armed, no-legged Vietnam War combat veteran was insufficiently loyal to America due to disagreement with George W. Bush.

Many of you know Steve Schmidt for his analysis on cable news. Many of you even know he was the chief advisor for the late John McCain when he was the Republican nominee in 2008. What many do not remember, and I’m here to remind you, is that Schmidt introduced to mainstream America the first mainstream fascist. Sarah Palin, as you’ll recall, made ubiquitous the idea that there is a “real America” living under the tyrannical thumb of a not-real America, which is to say residents of this country who are insufficiently loyal but more likely treasonous because they are not Republicans.

The Republicans saw Democrats and Democratic voters as illegitimate Americans long before Trump.

Many of you know George Conway as the husband of White House propagandist Kellyanne Conway. Many of you know he’s a frequent critic of Trump. But many of you do not now, or have forgotten until now, that George Conway was the head attorney for Paula Jones, whose sexual harassment civil suit against Bill Clinton led to Special Counsel Ken Starr’s inquiry, which led to the first instance of impeachment being weaponized by the GOP against a president for the “crime” of being a Democrat.

The point here is that Trumpism did not replace conservatism. The former rose from the latter. The GOP saw Democrats as illegitimate Americans long before Trump. The GOP did not abandon its principles either. As I said, the principles animating Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham are the same ones that animated John Calhoun and George Wallace. The point here is that Wilson, Schmidt and Conway played a role in that rise. It’s hard not to laugh a little at their attempt to sound, um, liberal. The Republicans, they wrote, “daily undermine the proposition we as a people have a responsibility and an obligation to continually bend the arc of history toward justice.”

Funny, right?

That said, we should welcome them. For now. We should welcome them even if they never repent for their sins. The president is terrible. We need an anti-Trump coalition. Sometimes you must unite with people you distrust in order to serve a greater goal.

And maybe they are repenting, in their own way.

After all, Lincoln was a liberal.

—John Stoehr

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.


  1. Greg Castanias on July 30, 2021 at 8:01 am

    Justice Felix Frankfurter said it best: “Wisdom too often never comes, so one ought not to reject it merely because it comes late.”

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