I'm a conservative and I don't know what the Republican Party stands for

Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

You have to stand for something, or you will fall in love with anything (at least according to the great country and western philosopher Aaron Tippin). But it also turns out to be true.

Take the Republican Party.

instead of turning on donald trump Following the devastating revelations in the January 6 hearings (or, at least, exercising strategic silence), the party’s reaction was to immediately fall in line. Again.

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Trump himself is full of contradictions. Obvious hypocrisies include: “you can’t resist” (A police officer); “lock her up!” (when he thought it was okay to suggest using the government to jail his political opponents); and “If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth?” (prior to invoked the Fifth Amendment almost 450 times this week). Clearly, this is a man without principles, whose positions are a matter of convenience.

But his impact on the Republican Party transcends his own moral flexibility. look no further than the FBI search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence as evidence

After a 2020 election cycle that saw the party “law and order” criticize Democrats for wanting to “defund the police”, we have seen quite a few members of the right-wing commentator gleefully wave a video of MAGA rioters beating Capitol police officers with flagpoles. (The lives of those cops don’t matter, to the Blue Lives Matter crowd.) Now, many of those same voices to the right they’re saying, “Defund the FBI.” So much for hyping up the heroes of law enforcement running toward danger.

Why the investment? It’s not because policing has suddenly become more abusive, and it’s not because Republicans realized that opposing law enforcement wins votes. The real reason concerns Trump’s attempt to avoid accountability and oversight.

But this is just one of many outrageously cynical changes for the Trump party. The Republican Party today is inscrutable, even deranged. And the changes transcend a political rearrangement that drew more working-class Americans into the GOP fold, trading free trade for populist protectionism and overcoming the rich blue-blooded image conjured up by establishment elites like Mitt Romney.

Consider foreign policy.

Ronald Reagan showed his famous moral clarity by confronting and calling the Soviet Union an Evil Empire. Trump, by contrast, praised Russian President Vladimir Putin (not to mention other authoritarian leaders from places like North Korea and China).

Consider a commitment to the American project itself.

The fundamental objective of conservatism in the United States was to preserve democracy. Today’s illiberal right wants to destroy it. Conservatives extolled the Founding Fathers and previous leaders of the United States. Now, despite all their attacks on the left by removing statues and renaming schools, some of Trump supporters sought to take them down rhetorically as a way to excuse Trump’s inexcusable behavior in office. Republican politicians bragged about being “rule of law” and “constitutional conservatives.” But then they supported Trump’s bogus “emergency” order regarding the border wall.

And there’s more Conservatives have long denounced the culture of victimhood, but Trump constantly plays the victim and refuses to accept responsibility for anything (much less blame). Likewise, conservatives have criticized identity politics and “playing the racial card.” Trump, who called the New York attorney general (who is investigating him) a “racist”, he does it happily.

It’s about power, presumably. But once the issues and tactics become indistinguishable from the other side (except to the extent that you have scaled their worst impulses and tactics), the contest becomes a pointless power play. Presumably, it is about tribalism. But who is our tribe? In the absence of transcendent principles or policies, how do we distinguish red shirts from blue shirts?

For the GOP, I’m pretty sure the litmus test is pro-Trump. The only color that matters is orange.

The biggest reversal, of course, has to do with reversals. Conservatives have historically defended a belief in moral absolutes, while denouncing moral relativism. Yet much of what conservatives say today—about the “establishment” and institutions (such as the FBI)—could have been said by a Berkeley hippie in 1968.

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Go through a list of topics (character, values, free trade, appropriations, Russia, spending, law and order, rule of law, etc.) and you’ll be hard-pressed to find any semblance of a consistent position. The Republican Party today is 180 degrees different from the party most of its members, like me, signed up to join.

So we are left with a party without a foundation, without a roadmap and without a soul. It does have a brand name though, it’s tacky and gold plated and it says “TRUMP”.

While the Republican Party may abandon its premises and lodge in the borrowed capital of the past, hanging on without Reason to be it requires a constant stream of revenge fantasies to rationalize support for such a superficial cult of personality.

In the absence of deep and permanent principles, we will fall in love with anything. Donald Trump probably won’t be around to see the aftermath when the music stops.

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