Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Moderates still don’t understand why conservatives voted for Trump

By Samuel Goldman, The Week

It’s not just ‘wokeness’ and social media. It’s order, fairness, and basic governance.

What’s wrong with conservatives?

The question has dominated prestige media since Donald Trump emerged as the frontrunner for the Republican nomination in 2016, and especially since his campaign of election denial culminated in violence on Jan. 6 last year. For decades, conservatives have appealed to personal virtue, the rule of law, and constitutional authority. Was it all just a sham to conceal a darker current of opposition to cultural change, racial equality, and democracy itself?

new essay by Jonathan Rauch and Pete Wehner in The New York Times is the latest attempt to answer. Trying to be reasonable, they meet what they regard as the most powerful response head-on. Sure, there are problems with Trump and the MAGA movement, Rauch and Wehner’s conservative interlocutors might say. But the threat posed by the left outweighs those objections, justifying support for Trump in the past, present, and likely future.

Although they’re associated with Never-Trump factions, Rauch and Wehner deserve credit for their refusal to reduce conservative support for Trump to bullying moralism, bigotry, or authoritarianism. That stance reflects their professional associations — Rauch moves in libertarian circles and is a senior fellow at the centrist Brookings Institution, and Wehner is a vice president at the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center — which would hardly have been possible had they regarded most potential allies as incipient fascists. The problem is that Wehner and Gerson don’t explain why conservatives, including intellectuals, journalists, and others who profess to care about ideas and principles, are so disaffected. That makes it impossible to understand their relationship to Trump as a genuinely tough call rather than an obvious error of judgment.


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