On Groundhog Day: Conservatism Inc. Thinks It Can Move On With Marco Rubio—But It Can’t


In the film Groundhog Day (which Charles Murray thinks will still be remembered centuries from now) a selfish man is doomed to relive the same day over and over again until he understands what it is to lead a good life and is permitted by whatever cosmic force exists to move on to February 3.

The Beltway Right seems to think it will forever be 1980, and the same old hoary slogans and invocations of vaguely-defined “principles” will carry the day. After Iowa, Marc Rubio is their current candidate to do this.

But unlike Bill Murray’s character, the GOP won’t get a chance to do the election over again. The Left’s triumph will be complete—and the historic American nation will be decisively dispossessed.

Thus for Conservatism Inc., the Iowa primary wasn’t about selecting a Republican nominee or even stopping Hillary Clinton. It was about stopping Donald Trump. And when Trump was marginally stumped by the massive Evangelical turnout for Ted Cruz, the Beltway Right reacted with unconcealed gloating—despite that inconvenient fact that Trump still came away with six delegates to Cruz’s seven. [Conservative Twitter is ridiculously happy that Donald Trump lost in Iowa, by German Lopez, Vox, February 1, 2016]

John Podhoretz [Email him]seemingly eager to confirm the most paranoid fears about neoconservatives, declared:

The consensus: Ted Cruz had “saved” self-proclaimed “conservatism” from Trump’s nationalist heresy. As David French at National Review hyperventilated (after his usual “Democrats are the real racists” virtue signaling):

[H]ad Trump won, we would even now be shuddering not just for the future of the conservative movement but for the future of a nation bounded and governed by constitutional principles.

[Ted Cruz, Triumphant, National Review, February 1, 2016].

(Yes, we all remember how that “conservative movement” that so values “constitutional principles” treated Ron Paul.)

What seems more likely: if Trump had won, the Beltway Right would be “shuddering” for the future of their useless foundations, nonprofits, and Political Action Committees, and, above all, consultants.

To take one example, one of the figures leading the rejoicing was Liz Mair, a self-described “pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, pro-amnesty R who believes in global warming.” Mair is a political consultant heading up an anti-Trump PAC which ran ads telling Iowa’s Evangelicals that Trump is insufficiently conservative. [Exclusive: Anti-Trump PAC Launches Ad Warning Voters About Donald Trump, by Charlie Spiering, Breitbart, January 20, 2016]

But, all too obviously, the point wasn’t to defend Christian values that Mair herself doesn’t believe in—it was to turn Evangelical voters into useful idiots in order to stop Trump.

This kind of worked. Tucker Carlson said a few days ago: “Evangelicals have given up trying to elect one of their own. What they’re looking for is a bodyguard, someone to shield them from mounting (and real) threats to their freedom of speech and worship.” [Donald Trump Is Shocking, Vulgar, and Right, Politico, January 28, 2016]. But while Trump obtained a respectable share of Evangelicals, entrance polls showed Cruz won a larger-than-expected Evangelical turnout. And the most important factor for a plurality of voters: supporting someone who “shares my values”. [Iowa caucus entrance poll results, by Lazaro Gamio and Scott Clement, Washington Post, February 2, 2016]

Cruz has actually been pursing something similar to the Sailer Strategy, focusing on turning out white voters who normally stay home. But Cruz’s strategy has an Evangelical twist: hence his calling for the support of the “body of Christ.” As he put it on his campaign website:

We know that if even a fraction of the Evangelicals who routinely don’t vote were to turnout and vote, Washington could be changed almost overnight.

The may have worked in Iowa. But there aren’t that many Evangelicals in states like New Hampshire. More generally, as Christian religiosity declines in America, such an approach could prove disastrous in a general election.

Which brings us to Marco Rubio, the current Main Stream Media darling. “Marco-mentum” is the Narrative being pushed by everyone from National Review to Fox News, after weeks of predictions of a Rubio surge that never quite took hold.[Fetch Happens, by Noah Millman, The American Conservative, February 2, 2016] Marco Rubio’s third-place finish was treated as a victory, even by the candidate himself in his euphoric speech.

As Michael Brendan Dougherty observes, nominating Rubio means the conservative movement doesn’t have to change anything [Rubio-mania is upon us, The Week, February 2, 2016]. Rubio’s neoconservative foreign policy and support for Amnesty may not be popular with the public, Dougherty notes, “but these are very popular with the GOP’s elites, and not hard to swallow for most conservative elites.”

Paul Ryan, among other leading Republicans, is quietly moving to support Rubio [‘If you don’t want Cruz or Trump as the nominee, you better get onboard with Rubio, by Jonathan Chait, New York, February 2, 2016]. And the donors are fleeing ¡Jeb! for Rubio as well [The Jeb Bush to Marco Rubio donor shift is real and it’s accelerating, by Katherine Miller and Jeremey Singer-Vine, Buzzfeed, February 1, 2016]

Rubio has Establishment support in South Carolina, recently winning the endorsement of African-American Republican Senator Tim Scott. [Marco Rubio Snags South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott’s Endorsement After Iowa Caucus, by Alexandra Jaffe, NBC, February 2, 2016] But Rubio faces a difficult race in New Hampshire, with fellow Establishment candidates Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and John Kaisich all sniping at him. So the strategy seems to be to get a respectable finish in New Hampshire, drive other Establishment candidates out of the race, and then win South Carolina.

The race the Beltway Right wants is Cruz v. Rubio [A Cruz v. Rubio Fight Would Electrify Conservatives, by Eliana Johnson, National Review, January 13, 2016]. This means driving Trump out. And the Koch Brothers are building a network of plutocrats with the singular goal of doing just that [Koch Brothers’ Network Considering Anti-Trump Campaign, by Leigh Ann Caldwell, NBC, February 1, 2016]. If they are successful, Cruz will find the “strange new respect” he’s getting suddenly dissipate as Conservatism Inc. shepherds Republican voters behind the more “electable” Rubio.

Conservatism Inc.’s furious hostility to Trump and its voters shows that it still assumes America is a “center-right” country. It believe an “optimistic” Rubio (or even a lucky Cruz) can beat Hillary. Sanders can be brushed aside as a Socialist.

But America is changing. An astonishing 84 percent of Democratic voters between 17 and 29 supported Sanders, as well as a majority of those between 30 and 44 [The key to Bernie Sanders’s Iowa success? Young voters, by Sarah Kliff, Vox, February 2, 2016] Sanders is polling competitively with Rubio, supposedly the most “electable” of the GOP candidates.

“Socialism” is no longer a scare word to these voters. If Sanders can ever win over non-white Democrats, he may be far more formidable than Hillary.

There’s a key difference in mindset between the American Left and Right. Even after eight years of Barack Obama’s “fundamental transformation” of the United States, the Democratic base is still pushing aggressively for its egalitarian goals. In contrast, the Beltway Right is concern-trolling its own voters and using faux opposition to ethanol and Eminent Domain as a way to purge dissidents on immigration, trade and foreign policy.

Beltway conservatives seem to believe they can continue to win elections by simply repeating condemnations of socialism and “Big Government.” But the center-right America of 1980 is gone—largely because of the Beltway Right’s cowardice.

More young people favor socialism instead of capitalism. The ever-increasing number of non-whites can be counted on to vote monolithically in support of Big Government. And the disastrous consequences of George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq (cheerled by the entire Beltway Right) convinced an entire generation that Republicans are too reckless to be trusted with foreign policy.

Trump offers a solution to the dying GOP—by rebranding the Republicans as a nationalist party with something to say to working class voters, the squeezed Middle Class, and that majority of white people who don’t actively hate themselves. Unlike Cruz, Trump has also proved his ability to change the political conversation and take the strategic offensive to retake lost ground.

Without Trump, immigration would not be an issue at all in the GOP primary and Jeb Bush might well have cruised to victory. And Ted Cruz, who rode Trump’s coattails for most of the campaign, would not have even been a contender.

But rather than seizing the opportunity, the GOP seems to almost hope for defeat by attacking its frontrunner, purging his supporters, and then screwing over its base the minute it can get away with it.

James Kirkpatrick [Email him] is a Beltway veteran and a refugee from Conservatism Inc.