In Jean Paul Sartre’s “Dirty Hands,” two Communist revolutionaries argue about politics. Hoederer, the leader of the faction, believes that rhetoric and principles serve as vehicles to deliver a political reality that comes as close as possible to an ideal. He is a tough pragmatist who understands short term trade offs can serve long term ends. Hugo; his secretary who, unbeknownst to him has been sent to kill him; believes passionately in the Communist rhetoric and principles. He believes that compromising those principles with rank politics so undermines the movement that it loses its right to exist.
As a Republican in the “Era of Trump,” I ask myself: “Who, in this analogy, am I?”
For years, I railed against “RINO Hunters,” arguing Hoederer’s point, that imperfect messengers who delivered incremental victories were worth more than political losses delivered by principled grandstanders. Besides, I argued, the America that the so-called RINOs want closely resembles that which the conservative zealots envision. It was the naive ideologues who cheered on Senator Ted Cruz’ “Green Eggs and Ham” filibuster, or Ron Paul’s half-baked immutability. These ideologues rejected Senator John McCain and Governor Mitt Romney–both men more conservative than their Democrat opponents, but deemed not sufficiently pure. For nearly a decade I wrote Black and Red, touted the supremacy of conservative principles, and supported “the most conservative candidate who could win,” even when the candidate was less conservative than my ideal.
Then, came 2016.
The GOP primary, and election of Donald Trump as President, caused me to reconsider my place in the GOP; and to rethink the Party’s desired goals. For years, I defended my tribe against liberal attacks that Republicans’ advocacy of principles like a smaller federal government, supply-side economics, and federalism, were nothing more than a Trojan Horse designed to deliver on darker, more sinister ends. I found these critiques the lowest of political demagoguery. Then, Trump wooed Republican voters, appealing directly to these dark impulses; while paying only cursory lip service to the grander principles the Party ostensibly supported. Clare Malone writes an incisive piece for Five Thirty Eight that reads in part,
“Many have assumed that adherence to a certain conservative purity was the engine of the GOP, and given the party’s demographic homogeneity, this made sense. But re-evaluating recent history in light of Trump, and looking a bit closer at this year’s numbers, something else seems to be the primary motivator of GOP voters, something closer to the neighborhood of cultural conservatism and racial and economic grievance rather than a passion for small government.”
One of Five Thirty Eight’s findings, which took into account multiple polls that gauged immediate feedback, found that among Republicans, candidate Trump’s approval ratings increased whenever he said the most outrageous things (e.g.–Judge Curiel couldn’t be impartial because of his Mexican heritage). Quite notably, his approval rating among Republicans has not dipped below 81%, in spite of his heretical views on conservatism.
So, who am I now?
Am I Hoederer, the pragmatist, who (if he weren’t a communist) would see Trump as a political means to an end?
Or am I Hugo, the idealist, convinced that this political concession threatens to entirely obliterate our shared ends?
That depends on who the GOP is–who we have become. Are we bigger than one man? What are our long term goals? How do we propose to improve Americans’ lives? What vision do we have for the country? Currently; between a White House perpetually embroiled in self-inflicted damage control, and a Balkanized Republican Congress; it appears that the conservative agenda (whatever it really is) has stalled.