In a way, the Trump nomination may be a blessing in disguise. I admit, it is a REALLY good disguise, one that looks like a total disaster, one confirming all the worst caricatures about racist and intolerant Republicans, one possibly even destroying the party as an effective entity and tarnishing conservatism for a long time. But if you ignore just how incredibly convincing the disguise is, you might just begin to see that, for all its infuriating, embarrassing, nauseating, frustrating, idiotic sideshow character, the Trump candidacy may be doing a favor for the conservative movement.
I have written before that the "big tent" embraced by the Republicans has been nothing less than a barely controlled disaster*, but in a way, it is not the fault of the party so much as the conservative movement itself. For reasons I can't begin to fathom, when the conservative movement began to change from the paleocon, protectionist, nationalist root of the 19th century Republican party (already strangely mixed with a strongly authoritarian social conservatism inherited from the prohibition movement), conservatives never bothered to define what conservatism exactly was. It was as if the movement was confusing itself with the party, and adopting its own big tent, trying to merge together the three incompatible wings of nationalist paleocons, constitutionalist-federalist "economic conservatives"** (along with some libertarians), and social conservatives of varying degrees of authoritarianism. And not just those, but also middle of the road, pro-subsidy, moderate regulation Rockefeller Republicans, various flavors of isolationists, pro-life single issue voters and a host of others.
Thanks to this confusion form the very start, no one really had any idea what conservatism was. Or, to be more precise, everyone had a very precise idea, it was whatever his particular flavor was, but most were not confident enough to say as much and tear apart the big tent. And thus was born a movement, and a party, with an impossible platform.
If you think about it, many of our complaints about Republicans come from this confusion. Why do so many politicians get dubbed "RINOs"? Because it is impossible not to be. If you have to be ideologically pure, in a party with at least three mutually exclusive definitions of what that means, what do you do? Think about it, do you support free trade? Yes and you upset paleocons, no and you upset federalist free market types. Do you support federal antipornography laws? Yes and the federalists hate you, no and the social conservatives do. Other parties have the same problems with interest groups, but at least they can point to a party ideology for support when they make a tough call. Not so Republicans, we have at least three ideologies, maybe more.
Is it any wonder most elected officials just do what is expedient? Or likely to win votes or applause from the press? After all, no matter what they do, a significant portion of their party will claim they are not "real conservatives" and the rest of the party will not challenge it, as we have learned arguing over what conservatism is is a waste of time.
But now, we have this wonderful opportunity. I admit, I wish it had come outside of an election year, and certainly not during this election year when we had every opportunity to win, but you have to take blessings when you get them, even foul mouthed, race baiting, narcissistic, orange blessings.
Thanks to the Trump nomination, the party, and the conservative movement, is finally being forced to recognize that it never was a single party, or a single philosophy. It is not exactly splitting in three. The social conservatives seem to be breaking into several fragments and joining up with either the nationalists or federalists, though not always on obvious lines. Still, it is definitely a start. Nationalist, protectionist paleocons are rejecting the beliefs of the federalist/constitutionalist wing, and the federalists are recognizing the paleocons never really shared their values of small government and individual liberty. The big tent, itself a dangerous illusion, is finally splitting at the seams, and the two major factions are recognizing they should never have been together at all.
I grant, in the short run, this is a bad thing. It will probably mean the Democrats will win several elections. On the other hand, it will finally allow both of these segments of the party to adopt a comprehensive and honest platform, one that states their true beliefs, and present their case to the public, rather than making half-hearted pitches watered down with rival philosophies both sides find embarrassing. Federalists will no longer need to apologize for the thinly veiled racism of the nationalists and the nationalists... I guess they can remove that thin veil and just let it all hang out like their leader does.
It will be painful, and it will change the face of politics, eliminating the comfortable old two party system. But, in the end, I think it will be a good thing.
Who would have thought I would have a good word for Donald Trump, huh?
* See "The Problem With the Big Tent", "Most Absurd Debate Since ... " and "Nice to Get Confirmation".
** These are the people who the nationalists, and some isolationist libertarians, like to dub "neocons", though their definition of neocon is often far off the mark. See "Term in Search of a Definition".
Sadly, I think it is possible we may not enjoy the benefits I describe above. The Republican party, at the moment, seems to be trying heroically to save the big tent, and it might work. I doubt it will work if Trump wins, as the conservatives simply will not be able to remain Republican once Trump unleashes his full nationalist tendencies. On the other hand, if Trump loses, this may end like other Republican nationalist movements, with the nationalists pretending they never split, talking a good line of federalism and all old injuries being forgiven. It may be good for the party in the short run, but I think such a reconciliation is disastrous in the long run, and I really hope it does not happen this time.