“Conservatives pride themselves on resisting change, which is as it should be,” wrote conservative icon William Buckley Jr. in his National Review in 2004. No surprises there for anyone familiar with Buckley’s famously stalwart reactionary politics. He continues, however, to deliver what could have been a premonition to his fellow Republicans in 2016: “But intelligent deference to tradition and stability can evolve into intellectual sloth and moral fanaticism, as when conservatives simply decline to look up from dogma because the effort to raise their heads and reconsider is too great.”
I choose to open this column with Buckley—who was so right-wing he endured a lifetime of (not always unfounded) accusations of crypto-fascism, most famously from his intellectual nemesis Gore Vidal—because though his ideas were anathema to my own, he was always unceasingly rigid in his defense of them. Like public intellectuals on both sides before and since, from Strauss to Hitchens to Sontag, Buckley staked out his lines in the sand with great care. He understood these markers could be moved after careful consideration, but only as circumstances made the old lines obsolete.
The Republicans changing their tunes about Donald Trump in the wake of his Access Hollywood scandal aren’t moving obsolete lines, they’re bringing the boundaries closer to save their own skins. Any who claim to have found something new and unsupportable about Donald Trump’s comments that caused them to change their views are either lying or truly, tragically clueless.
As if on cue, when I began sketching this column, there appeared in various Internet news outlets stories claiming to confirm that Glenn Beck, the Right’s previous fearmonger-in-chief, would be voting for Hillary Clinton, claiming that it would be the “moral choice” to oppose her as president rather than allow Trump to sully the office. Welcome to the world, Glenn. I can’t say we’ve missed you, or that it’s even nice to have you back. But you’ve got to admit you’re the perfect example of just how fucked up 2016 is.
Beck and other Republicans finally choosing to abandon Trump can use phrases like “moral decision” and pretend they’re still the party of lofty old-fashioned values, but most of the party outed themselves as unclothed emperors the minute they cast their lot with Donald in the first place. Anyone who has been paying attention to the Donald for the past decades knows that bigotry, crookedness, and violent absurdity are his lifesblood: No matter what the GOP may believe, when someone decides to run for president as a Republican, the angel Gabriel does not appear from the heavens and set the former sinner on a new path toward the Oval Office. The same power-hungry sociopath exists on the day after the convention as did on the day before it.
Claiming to have supported Trump along party lines as he stood by and degraded women—not to mention the many other groups, the naming of which would take up all of my space—for his entire campaign was an act of cowardice and self-betrayal for these politicians. Choosing this particular sound bite as the backbreaking straw is another. This mass ship-jumping won’t be what causes Trump to lose—he had lost before they abandoned him. What it may do is destroy the conservative base of the Republican party for good.