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The 2016 Contest: Pragmatism vs. Principle

Don't Blame Conservatives

May 9, 2016

With the departure of Senator Cruz, the presidential campaign has taken another step closer to the long-anticipated contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Both are indisputably divisive and overwhelmingly unpopu
lar, yet one will be chosen in November to lead the country through the next four years.

Because neither candidate enjoys broad-based support by their respective parties, the outcome of the election is anyone’s guess. Life-long Democrats are finally coming to terms with Clinton’s dishonesty and looking to candidates like Bernie Sanders or even Donald Trump. Vast numbers of Republicans see their presumptive nominee as a liberal interloper, lacking the temperament required for the highest office in the land. They have unequivocally rejected him as their nominee.

A Clinton victory would entrust the country to a patently dishonest politician, who has already shown a willingness to put her self-serving agenda before the security of our country.

But what would a Trump presidency look like?

He’s made a lot of campaign promises that sound appealing. But reasonable people are rightly suspicious of any politician who offers only vague promises, and whose credibility is compromised by continuous contradictions and exaggerations. We can only hope that a President Trump would fulfill those vows to seal our borders, rebuild our military, bring jobs back, and reduce our national debt.

The problem is that Trump is a consummate pragmatist. In his world, winning is everything, and he would say or do anything to win. That’s evidenced by his sudden conversion to conservatism. This once-proud liberal knew he needed the backing of a major political party to compete for the presidency. He also knew that Clinton was already locked into the Democratic nomination, so he put his liberal ideology aside to assume the role of a conservative and access the machinery of the Republican Party.

Conservatives have other concerns as well. It may be shocking to his loyalists, but prior to this campaign, most Americans had little interest in Trump’s escapades. Still, they respected him for his business successes. For many voters, that’s forever changed. His vile campaign tactics have exposed him as a shallow, petty and spiteful man with the emotional maturity of a troubled adolescent.

Many Republicans, and most conservatives, reject Trump’s nomination because his election would give the country an unpredictable and unprincipled leader, void of conservative values, and offering only unrealistic promises. Under his presidency, they foresee a country sliding deeper into liberalism, one in which more liberal justices are appointed to the Supreme Court, one in which the federal government assumes an ever-expanding role, and Planned Parenthood continues to harvest baby parts. They see a country in which religious rights are suppressed by continuously evolving social mores, and society’s moral compass is calibrated by Washington politicians.

The reason conservatives reject Trump is because they can never endorse those principles.

Of course, now that Trump has clinched the nomination, many Republicans will accept him, some to ride his coattails, and others to support the party. Like Trump, their decision will be guided by pragmatism. But, anchored by strong convictions, most conservatives are guided by principle and are less influenced by party loyalty.

Republicans have always mocked the blind loyalty of Democrats but now are demanding exactly that from Republican voters. They’re shocked that millions of party members, including many prominent figures, are walking away from this election. They shouldn’t be surprised. All of Trump’s supporters knew what they were getting into. They saw the polls predicting Trump’s inevitable loss to Clinton. They saw that the votes he received, despite their record numbers, represented less than 40 percent of Republican voters.

They expected things would change after settling on Trump, but either they forgot about the conservative wing, or they don’t understand the meaning of the word “principled.” It means standing firm on core beliefs even if it leads to an unpleasant outcome, even a catastrophic outcome - even Hillary Clinton’s election.

So the Trumpians have their nominee, and Donald Trump has a lot of deals to make in the next six months - even if he doesn’t think it’s necessary. In 2012, a hefty 93 percent of Republicans supported Mitt Romney and even with that, he lost that election.

His supporters have already begun coaxing, cajoling, and intimidating conservatives back to the fold. “If you don’t support Mr. Trump, Hillary will win the election, and it will be your fault.”

And if she should win in November, the post-election recriminations will be deafening. Incensed Trump supporters will be cursing conservatives, denouncing them as disloyal. Trump will spend a few days ranting about a rigged system, and insisting that Hillary is the real loser. Then he’ll go back to running his billion dollar industry, leaving American stuck with President Hillary Clinton.

If that should happen, it would not be the fault of conservatives. The responsibility will fall on those talking heads who fawned over Mr. Trump, the news outlets that promoted him with unlimited airtime, and the Republican voters who nominated a liberal candidate, even more unfavorable than Clinton.

But this election is fluid, and Trump may still pull off a victory. He’ll need a lot of help from those new liberal converts he boasts about, because unless something changes, he’ll find little support from principled conservatives.

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Peter Lemiska has spent more than 28 years in government service. He is a former Senior Special Agent of the U.S. Secret Service and an Air Force veteran. His political commentaries have been widely published online and in print.