The worst thing about the Trump Era within the conservative movement since the summer of 2016 is how Donald Trump himself became the defining feature of the movement. The “Never Trump” faction of the Right defines conservatism only as opposition to Trump, while the “Always Trump” faction defines conservatism only as support of Trump. They are two sides of the same worthless coin.
Conservatism is about ideas, not support of or opposition to one man. The conservative movement was around long before Trump became politically relevant, and it will be around long after Trump is gone. But because Trump inspires such visceral reactions, the litmus test for conservatism is whether or not one supports Trump – and this is true of both “Never Trump” and “Always Trump.”
The “Never Trump” side (which, admittedly, is a minority within the conservative movement) sees Trump as a charlatan and a person of bad personal character who is not only not conservative himself, but has seriously wounded conservatism with his antics. They demean every Trump supporter as a traitor to the movement, ignoring Trump’s policy accomplishments and the destructive policy agenda of the Democrats.
Meanwhile, the “Always Trump” side correctly points to the many conservative policies Trump has advanced, but feels compelled to defend every single thing he does and says – no matter how indefensible his behavior has been. Sometimes, they even cheer his worst behavior. They viciously lash out against any criticism of Trump, no matter how logically or factually sound that criticism may be.
It never had to be this way. We could have treated Trump like a normal leader, criticizing him when he is wrong and supporting him when he is right. Hopefully, with Trump leaving office next month, the conservative movement can return to being about ideas instead of one man’s volatile personality. If we are serious about advancing our principles, that desperately needs to happen.