This post has been updated.
Donald Trump must be stopped: That’s the theme binding an avalanche of essays by conservative thought leaders — 22 in all — that the National Review sent thundering down the political mountain onto GOP voters late Thursday, along with an editorial by the magazine’s editors.
With a massive winter storm expected along the East Coast this weekend, perhaps some of the 35 percent of Republicans who support the real estate mogul-reality TV star will be buried in actual snow, with nothing better to do than read all 9,000 words and change their minds.
Or perhaps they will dismiss “Against Trump” — the title of this special collection by one of the nation’s preeminent conservative publications — as just another chorus of naysaying from the loathsome, out-of-touch “establishment.” (The National Review did just get dropped as a debate sponsor by the Republican National Committee, however, which might help the magazine appear less establishment-y.)
So far in this presidential election cycle, the front-running Trump has proven remarkably impervious to media criticism; if anything, he has been strengthened by negative press. His backers — a coalition of the disgruntled — seem to interpret every suggestion that electing or even nominating Trump is terrible idea as proof that it’s actually a great one, kind of like the way my 1-year-old thinks everything I tell her not to put in her mouth must, in fact, be a delicious treat of which I am trying to deprive her.
Do you see what I did there? I insulted Trump supporters by likening them to a small child. But I did that for a reason. This, I think, is the great flaw in most Trump critiques: They’re patronizing, and the people who have fallen in love with this billionaire’s cavalier campaign can sniff out condescension like … well, maybe it’s best not to try another analogy.
What stands out in “Against Trump” is the clear and genuine respect that the National Review and its contributors — who include Glenn Beck, Erick Erickson and William Kristol — have for the troops encamped at Fort Donald. There’s no mockery, no sarcasm. They understand and sympathize with the frustrations that would cause someone to fall in line behind Trump; they just think he’s the wrong leader, and they’re here to explain why.
Inflammatory rhetoric — a centerpiece of standard Trump coverage — is only a minor point in this compendium, when it comes up at all. The unifying argument is that Trump simply isn’t a reliable conservative. Put another way: You shouldn’t vote against Trump because he says mean things; you should vote against Trump because he isn’t who or what you think he is.
In their editorial, National Review editors put it this way:
There are understandable reasons for his eminence, and he has shown impressive gut-level skill as a campaigner. But he is not deserving of conservative support in the caucuses and primaries. Trump is a philosophically unmoored political opportunist who would trash the broad conservative ideological consensus within the GOP in favor of a free-floating populism with strong-man overtones.
Paraphrasing a line of scripture from 1 Timothy (which Trump would no doubt pronounce “One Timothy”), Erickson writes this:
We should not put a new conservative in charge of conservatism or the country, so that he does not become puffed up with conceit and fall into condemnation. Republicans have wandered in the wilderness already by letting leaders define conservatism in their own image. Donald Trump needs more time and more testing of his new conservative convictions.
Beck gets specific, citing Trump’s previous support for stimulus spending, bank bailouts and auto bailouts as reasons why his conservative credentials are suspect.
When conservatives desperately needed allies in the fight against big government, Donald Trump didn’t stand on the sidelines. He consistently advocated that your money be spent, that your government grow, and that your Constitution be ignored. Sure, Trump’s potential primary victory would provide Hillary Clinton with the easiest imaginable path to the White House. But it’s far worse than that. If Donald Trump wins the Republican nomination, there will once again be no opposition to an ever-expanding government.
On and on it goes. And if you don’t respect one of these writers, there’s a decent chance you’ll respect the next one. Or the next one. Setting the substance of these anti-Trump arguments aside for a moment, the sheer volume of conservative thinkers presenting the case is impressive. Assembling this thing was quite the undertaking by National Review editor Rich Lowry.
The track record of media “attacks” on Trump isn’t very good, and he’s already trying to swat away this one in familiar fashion.
But for its lack of pretense and its abundance of voices, you’ve got to give “Against Trump” a chance. It probably has a better shot to sway Republican voters than anything else so far.