By Alex Knepper
To mild fanfare, National Review has published a symposium opposing Donald Trump’s candidacy, featuring just under two dozen representatives of various right-of-center strains of thought. It is unclear who is the target audience of this piece. Someone may have persuaded Bill Kristol that Iowa caucus-goers are likely to turn against Trump after having Leo Strauss on vulgarity quoted to them. Maybe, with the symposium’s fourteen mentions of St. Ronald Reagan, Conservative Movement Inc. still holds to the belief that struggling citizens crave more 80s nostalgia about a president whose youngest living voter is 50 years old. What’s more likely, I think, is that this editorial is primarily about the writers themselves, many of whom consider themselves gatekeepers of respectable conservative opinion: they mean to draw their lines in the sand. I can only hope they are not pretending to be winning the battle against their Frankenstein monster.
Trump has steamrolled through the GOP ‘establishment’ and the ‘old guard’ of conservative punditry with a mystifying ease — and has revealed the dead ideology of Reagan conservatism for the paper tiger it is. It no longer represents a viable coalition. The people have moved on, even if professional right-wingers have not. The Republican divide between establishmentarians and the populist/movement ‘base’ is no longer merely one about strategy. American politics are increasingly resembling European politics. The parties are as polarized as they have been in the modern era. The fabled center is not ‘holding.’ Because it has no positive case to make for a winning alternative, the Republican superstructure has been utterly paralyzed in its response to Trump. The old truism stands: something always beats nothing. These writers, many of whom I respect, can berate Trump every day from now until the Republican convention — but they can’t beat someone with no one. And their collective paralysis — their stunning inability to stop a man like Trump — points to the urgent need for a new era of right-of-center thinkers to rise.