(American Prospect) — Donald Trump has conservatives in a dither. He’s the wagon to which they’ve hitched their star, the vehicle for all of the deregulatory, tax-cutting goodies he’s delivered to them. And he’s killing their movement.
In the decades since Ronald Reagan’s capture of the presidency in 1980, conservatism has adhered to the Gipper’s winning formula of a “three-legged stool,” comprising social, fiscal, and defense conservatives. Each of these designations was misleading in its own way. So-called “defense conservatives,” for instance, were actually war hawks; “fiscal conservatives” were actually more libertarian than conservative. And social conservatives were really people with a radical view of religion’s role in government and the gun’s role in society. Nevertheless, each group embraced its fictional representation, seeing as it offered a veil woven of threads that looked like principles—a pretty cover for a coalition drawn together by little more than greed and cultural resentment.
With his audacious bid for the presidency in 2016, Trump ripped off the veil, revealing a segment of the electorate only too happy to bare its sharp and jagged teeth in ugly display. Conservative leaders had a choice to make: They could shun the coarse and repulsive standard-bearer of the Republican Party on principle, or they could bet on the payoff that the principle-challenged candidate could yield them. We know which way they went.