Perhaps unsurprisingly, Senate Republicans have given their opponents and our dementia-ridden president a win during an election year. The mostly symbolic gun control bill is unlikely to do anything useful, but the red flag laws it funds contain a lot of potential for abuse through our politicized legal system. In other words, you can always count on some Republicans going along with bad politics and bad policy.
This is what we have come to expect not just from the Republican Party, but the various institutions of Conservatism Inc., such as National Review and the Heritage Foundation. These well-funded operations produce a lot of nice-sounding papers containing fanciful policy ideas, including a lot of ink defending the military industrial complex, and make a million excuses about decorum and “the way things are done” in order to justify losing.
By any measure, until last week, the culture war had been a 30-year rout. Conservatives lost on everything: divorce, abortion, gay marriage, immigration, affirmative action, control over media and academia, and the death penalty. When these losses piled up, there was a lot of talk about taking back the Supreme Court, since so many of the problems originated there, but it seemed a pipe dream.
While the Federalist Society and the conservative legal movement understood the importance of the Supreme Court, commitment to it was mixed among Republican presidents, leading to Supreme Court nominees like Souter, O’Connor, Kennedy, and Roberts. Every one of them turned out to be a disappointment, barely better than those chosen by the opposition. Placing a premium on the Court’s prestige, they were committed to maintaining the radical precedents of the Warren and Burger era.
It may seem like ancient history, but who can forget George W. Bush’s insulting nomination in 2005 of his business lawyer, Harriet Miers. Completely undistinguished by training and pedigree, her nomination was also a repudiation of Bush’s promise to nominate “strict constructionists” in the mold of Antonin Scalia. Her nomination eventually was withdrawn and replaced with Samuel Alito, who turned out to be far superior to Bush’s other nominee, the consummate insider, John Roberts.
This sorry record of failure is one reason why Trump was so popular and so effective. His chief source of support came from voters. He was not hidebound by the customs and pieties of Conservatism, Inc. Indeed, part of his appeal was his plain talk and contempt for the lies and half-truths that make up political correctness.
This often manifested in Trump by his accidental speaking of obvious truths. He occasioned some controversy by suggesting women who get abortions may need to be punished, as if this were not obvious to everyone but the professional pro-lifers who make their living inside the beltway.
Similarly, he stuck to his guns in supporting his nominee Brett Kavanaugh in the face of a defamatory campaign of insane lies. In this, Trump showed courage and loyalty, even though some got weak-kneed at the time and urged him to pull the nomination.
Trump was not pretending to be conservative, and he was not terribly invested in some of the pet causes of the official conservative movement. But he was completely hostile to the ruling class, which he understood well given his educational background and many years in elite circles in New York City.
While his presidency had its flaws, not least in its hiring and the way it was bamboozled by then-House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), overall he showed an all-American commitment to getting the job done and keeping his promises.
This culminated last week in a string of victories at the Court, including the once-unthinkable reversal of Roe v. Wade. Many intermediate steps brought this about, including the Republican Senate locking ranks to deny Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland, Trump’s 2016 victory, his subsequent appointment of Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s not-really-untimely death at the age of 87, permitting the nomination and confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett.
After this success, it is hard to forget how the #NeverTrump caucus within Conservatism, Inc. merely brushed aside the problem of the Court, as if it had not been a massive obstacle to the success of conservatives and self-government for the last 50 years. Starting with the Warren Court, the Supreme Court acted beyond the language of the Constitution to overturn democratically enacted laws on abortion, gay marriage, illegal immigrants, prayer in schools, and anything else that deviated from the values of the elite and the D.C. managerial class. The federal government, which was supposed to be kept in narrow lines, had free rein. At the same time, the rubes in flyover country and their states were treated as occupied territory, whose exercises in democracy would have to pass the ever-evolving standards of the coasts.
Regarding abortion in particular, the Roe v. Wade decision was laughably stupid and sophistical. It is notable that most of the current criticism of the Court’s decision in Dobbs emphasized the importance of precedent in the abstract, rather than the results-oriented garbage that the Court concocted in the original Roe decision.
None of this would have happened without the Trump presidency. In the alternate universe of #NeverTrump, Hillary’s impact on the Court would have been enormous. And Conservatism, Inc., did not care, because it was more interested in the status and prestige of being a respected (junior) member of the ruling class, rather than achieving the results it ostensibly believed in.
In this way, the donations and subscriptions keep flowing in the vain hope that the movement will somehow find its way out of the mazes it created. You see a hint of this same spirit today, in those Republicans now worried about a “backlash” from the decision, as if winning elections takes priority over the reasons we say we want to win elections.
In his 2016 campaign, Trump would famously say, “We’re gonna win so much, you may even get tired of winning. And you’ll say, ‘Please, please. It’s too much winning. We can’t take it anymore. Mr. President, it’s too much.’”
Well, he was wrong about the second part. Winning is great! And Trump gave us a taste of winning, something we had not had in a long time. He showed the way, and, in doing so, he exposed the fraudulence and flaccidness of his opponents on the #NeverTrump Right.