Return of the King

Donald Trump is a man favored by the gods. He burst onto the political scene with a clap of thunder and lightning, turning the sclerotic and dying conservative movement on its head. After decades of loserdom and failure, he invigorated it, turning the American Right away from mindless talk of tax cuts and invading Middle Eastern backwaters and towards the foundational elements of nationhood. Trump’s focus on immigration and trade delivered him the GOP nomination and the presidency on a silver platter. It also sent the globalist Left into a meltdown from which it still hasn’t recovered. 

No other figure on the Right could have done what Trump did. No matter what else one may say about his presidency’s successes or failures, one thing is entirely clear: without Trump, there would be no meaningful nationalist or populist movement in America. 

Angelo Codevilla, in his most recent essay “What is Trump to Us?” minimizes this point. Instead, he lambasts Trump for his policy failures once in office. Codevilla notes, correctly, that Trump failed to understand the true nature of the national security state until it was too late, stayed in Afghanistan and Iraq when he should have left immediately, and failed to put Anthony Fauci and company in their proper place during the COVID-19 scare. 

There is no doubt that Trump passed on opportunities to deal crushing blows to the ruling class. But attacking the man as Codevilla does, arguing that he was “indispensable” to the centralization of the “oligarchy’s power” and that his “rhetorical leadership was insufficient” to solving the republic’s core problems misses the point. Attacking the only figure on the American Right capable of leading a populist movement is self-defeating and pointless.

Helpful criticisms of Trump’s decision-making are one thing but casting the man himself aside is another. Codevilla does just that, dispensing with Trump while gesturing vaguely at a “next generation” of “post-Trump” leaders who will replace him. And who would they be, pray tell? J.D. Vance? Ron DeSantis? Kristi Noem? None of these figures commands the love of the people like Trump does. None of them has his fire, his stage presence, or his brash courage.

DeSantis is competent but boring. Noem was OK on COVID but cucked to the NCAA over transgender athletes and the mere threat of lawsuits. Like John Kerry on the Iraq War, Vance denounced Trump before supporting him after he won. With friends like these, indeed. 

Without Trump, the premier heroes of the Right would have been such luminaries as Robo-Rubio and Corpulent Cruz. In other words, official conservatism would have remained the domain of bow-tied losers, closeted D.C. homosexuals, and homeschooled debate team nerds. Codevilla is too quick to dismiss Trump’s successes. Yes, the ruling class was able to remove Trump from power—but at enormous cost.

The media, the oligarchs, and the entire apparatus of the Democratic Party needed a year-long global lockdown, four years of Russian collusion hoax-mongering, and the most irregular and statistically bizarre election of a generation to get rid of him. As the masks went on, the mask came off.

Trump is not Caesar. He will never fundamentally undo the old order and replace it with a new one. Instead, Trump is the Great Unveiler. He exposed, to millions of Americans, the true nature of our regime and of our ruling class. He could, for a time, keep these elites in check. Even now, his existence is a great stumbling block to their power. They might be rid of him (temporarily) but they cannot kill him. As long as Trump lives, he can return. 

Trump, like the katechon spoken of in 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7, could “restrain” a greater “lawlessness” yet to come. Trump, at his best, could hold back the leftoid apocalypse, not defeat it outright. But that was, and remains, a noble accomplishment. It is certainly far more than conservatives could have dreamt of doing prior to 2015.

Codevilla has no real solutions to a post-Trump world. He sees the problems clearly but what good is that without political power? Turning on Trump offers nothing except the gratification of intellectual superiority. I would remind Codevilla, gently, that the study of statesmanship is always subordinate to statesmanship itself. 

Trump accomplished a great task by delegitimizing and mocking the ruling class. By doing so, he performed a mighty work on behalf of the conservative movement. For that, we on the right owe him a debt of gratitude. Personal loyalty, not ideological purity, is the foundation of all successful political movements. Flesh and blood are more potent than abstractions and words. 

“Post-Trump” conservative intellectuals miss this point entirely. One does not attain political success by having the spiciest hot take or churning out think pieces. Winning takes power. And seizing power requires the excellence of a great man. Trump had (and still has) tremendous virtues. Machiavelli writes in the Discourses that the “good emerges in republics either through the virtue of a man or through the virtue of an order.” Orders, or institutions, are “brought to life” by the virtue of a citizen who “rushes spiritedly to execute them against the power of those who transgress them.” 

In other words, Machiavelli recognizes that even a republic, with its institutions and laws, is nothing without the virtue of the few extraordinary men, or princes, who give it life. Trump is such a prince. 

He still has the capacity to lead the Right. He may yet return, in glory, to descend in fury upon our degenerate ruling class. Yes, Trump must do this. He must return.

He should run for Congress in 2022. He should run against Liz Cheney in Wyoming. He should become speaker of the House and immediately declare for the presidency. He should hold rallies in every state of the union, conceding nothing and continually lambasting senile Joe Biden and the rest of the gerontocrats shuffling around the Capitol. 

He should campaign on a platform of pardoning the January 6 protestors and defend the memory of Ashli Babbitt. Trump’s fight isn’t over. Not even close. There is no post-Trump conservative movement. Trump has not yet left the stage and he should not. 

Meanwhile, if Codevilla and others want a long-term populist movement to come into being, they should strain with all of their energy toward finding a worthy successor for Trump. He ought to be a man of strength and power, who can electrify and invigorate the people just as Trump has done. 

Until they find such a man, all talk of “post-Trump” conservatism is nothing but vanity.

About Josiah Lippincott

Josiah Lippincott is a former Marine officer and current Master's student at the Van Andel School of Statesmanship at Hillsdale College. You can find him on Twitter at @jlippincott_

Photo: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

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