The conservative movement is starting to look a lot like Syria. Baited, taunted, mocked by Fox News, Donald Trump told Roger Ailes what he could do with his Iowa debate, and marched off to host a Thursday night rally for veterans at the same time in Des Moines.
Message: I speak for the silent majority, Roger, not you, not Megyn Kelly, not Fox News. Diss me, and I will do fine without Fox. And so the civil-sectarian war on the right widens and deepens.
And two questions arise: Will the conservative movement and Republican Party unite behind Trump if he is the nominee? And will the movement and party come together if Trump is not the nominee? A breakdown of the balance of forces in this civil-sectarian war finds most of the media elite of the right recoiling from Trump, while Trump leads by a huge margin in Middle America.
National Review, Commentary, The Weekly Standard, Wall Street Journal, and the conservative and neocon columnists on the op-ed pages at The Washington Post and The New York Times have almost all come out viscerally against Trump. He, in turn, has trashed several by name. Wounds have been inflicted that will not soon be forgiven or forgotten.
But while columns and magazines appear in print twice weekly, weekly, biweekly and monthly, millions listen to talk radio every hour of every day. And though websites might be updated daily, radio, more than print, is a medium that moves people.
Among the top talkers, Trump gets more than a fair hearing. Some of the talk shows with the largest audiences are sympathetic, others are supportive. And the Drudge Report, the daily newspaper of Middle America, tracks Trump’s every move.
In the media battle, then, the media elite are being swamped by Trump. And Trump is winning the political battle as well. According to almost every poll, state or national, Trump is ahead of all rivals, with his closest challenger trailing by 10 or more points. Among the populist and Tea Party right, Trump has lapped the field, and he is now competitive among Evangelicals.
How will the civil war on the right end? Because the differences are not simply about personalities and politics, but principles and policies, it may not end with this election. There is talk of having the anti-Trump conservatives unite behind the one establishment candidate — Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, Chris Christie — who emerges strongest after New Hampshire, to storm through the later primaries and take down Trump.
Yet such a scenario seems implausible. That audience of 24 million that tuned in to the first Fox News debate and the 22 million that tuned in to the CNN debate were drawn to Trump, and Ben Carson, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, because these men seemed to represent real change.
Democrats who support Bernie Sanders and Republicans who support Trump may disagree on where America should go, but both agree on the need for America to radically change direction.
Yet, if this battle for the GOP nomination should yield another establishment Republican, would not all the fire and energy of the campaign of 2015-2016 soon disappear? Consistency not being their long suit, some among the conservative elites who denounced Trump’s walkout from the debate, threaten to walk out of the party should Trump win.
But walkout is an option open to populists as well. And if, after the rise of the Tea Party, the capture of Congress in 2014, the Trump-Cruz-Carson rebellion, the GOP offers the silent majority yet another establishment candidate, will populists and Tea Party types rally to him?
Perhaps. One recalls that, after the Revolution of 1789, the march on Versailles, the guillotining of Louis XVI, the rise of Robespierre, and the Era of Napoleon, the French got the Bourbon Restoration — Louis XVIII, brother of the beheaded king, sitting on the old throne.
Still, if the populist-conservative struggle of the last five years, to put behind them the days of Bush 41 and Bush 43, produces Bush 45, or his moral equivalent, how many would shoulder arms and march for him?
And, again, the argument over the acceptability of Trump aside, there is a deeper conflict within the GOP and conservative movement that may be irreconcilable. Millions of conservatives and independents believe it was the Republican policies of the recent past that also failed America.
The Bush-Clinton-Obama trade policies produced the $12 trillion in trade deficits, which measures the net export of U.S. factories and manufacturing jobs, which explain the wage stagnation. The Republican-neocon foreign policy of intervention and nation building is a primary cause of the present disasters in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Yemen.
The immigration policies championed by Bush Republicans as well Clinton and Obama Democrats produced the immigration crisis that propels the Trump campaign. In short, it will be difficult for populists to unite with Beltway conservatives in 2016, when the former see the latter as part of the problem, not the solution.