What is needed among Republicans in Washington now is patience, soberness of thought, and a kind of heroic fairness. Reflection and humility wouldn’t hurt either.
One of our two great parties is either shattering or reconstituting itself. It is not united and has not been since the George W. Bush era. As the pollster Kellyanne Conway noted this week, if it were, there wouldn’t have been 17 candidates for president, and Donald Trump wouldn’t be the presumptive nominee.
The optimistic thought is that it is reconstituting itself. The past year the base of the party has been kicking away from its elected and established leaders in Washington and, simultaneously, broadening itself, with new members coming in. That suggests a certain dynamism: Maybe something’s busy being born, not busy dying. We’ll see.
But almost every conservative and Republican in Washington—in politics, think tanks and journalism—backed a candidate other than Mr. Trump. Every one of those candidates lost, and Mr. Trump won. After November, think tanks and journals will begin holding symposia in which smart people explain How We Lost The Base.
Mr. Trump’s victory was an endorsement of Mr. Trump but also a rebuke to professional Republicans in Washington. It was a rebuke to comprehensive immigration plans that somehow, mysteriously, are never quite intended to stop illegal immigration; a rebuke to the kind of thinking that goes, “I know, we’ll pass laws that leave Americans without work, which means they’ll be deprived of the financial and spiritual benefits of honest labor, then we’ll cut their entitlements, because if we don’t our country will go broke.” The voters backed Mr. Trump’s stands on these issues and more.
A political question for November: Does Mr. Trump pick up more Democrats than he loses Republicans? Is that how he plans to win? Does he draw in enough new or non-Republican voters to make up for the millions of Republican voters he will surely lose?
In an act of determined denial, Washington Republicans and conservatives continue to see and describe Mr. Trump’s nomination as the triumph of a celebrity in a culture that worships celebrity, the victory of a vulgarian in a vulgar age, the living excrescence of our shallow values and lowered standards. Also, he’s tapped into the public’s rage.
He is all of those things. But he is more, and Washington is determined to ignore the more. He understood, either intuitively or after study, that the Republican base was changing or open to change, and would expand if the party changed some policies. He declared those policies changed. And he won.
As to the matter of rage, it’s more like disrespect for those who’ve been calling the shots. If you know Trump people in real life as opposed to through social media, if they are your friends and family members, you understand that “rage” doesn’t do them justice. They dislike the Republican Party, which they believe has consistently betrayed them, but Trump people in person are just about the only cheerful people in politics this year. They actually have hope—the system needs a hard electric shock, he’s just the man to do it, and if it doesn’t work they’ll fire him. They’re having a good time. Here I throw in a moment I had in Manhattan Thursday afternoon. I was standing on a corner on York Avenue in the 60s when a cab screeched across two lanes to stop in front of me. “I am voting for Trump!” the driver yelled through an open window. “You want to know why? He is neither right or left!” He then laughed and sped on. Not all Trump supporters are quiet about it.
But back to the new Republicans—the Democrats and independents who’ve voted for Mr. Trump. As usual with the Republican Party, these new friends were not cheerily invited in—who would ever think of that?—but crashed the party with the guy with the yellow hair. A lot of Washington Republicans seem to have spent the past week wondering what they always wonder: How much should we snub them? How uncomfortable should we make them? Should we not talk to them or just not give them a drink? Way to do outreach, fellas.
It is good that Paul Ryan snapped out of his smug-seeming “I’m just not ready” approach of last week, and met and talked with Mr. Trump this week. When a sitting Republican speaker of the House is cool on or considering rejecting that party’s presumptive presidential nominee, more is needed than “I’m not there yet.”
He has every right not to endorse Mr. Trump, but if he doesn’t, both Mr. Trump and his supporters deserved more. You have to explain at length and with moral and intellectual seriousness and depth in exactly what ways he’s not worthy of your support, and you have to do it in a way that summons a response that is equally thoughtful and temperate.
Not much is known about the meeting at this point. Mr. Ryan told the press afterward that he was “encouraged” by their talk, but still declined to endorse.
In a joint statement issued soon after, Messrs. Ryan and Trump said: “It’s critical that Republicans unite around our shared principles, advance a conservative agenda, and do all we can to win this fall.” They said they were “honest about our few differences” but “there are also many important areas of common ground.” There was a nod to “many millions of new voters,” who showed up for the Republican primaries, “far more than ever before in the Republican Party’s history.”
All of which strikes me as a Trump win. Mr. Ryan referred to his conservatism and suggested Mr. Trump holds political principles.
Mr. Trump should want to bring the party together. He makes sounds that he doesn’t need to, but he does and must know it or he wouldn’t have met with GOP leaders in the first place. A party fracturing all around him will only spread unease, increase tension, and intensify sourness. He needs at least a semblance of calm so he doesn’t look every day like Thor, God of Thunder and Battle.
Those who oppose Mr. Trump should do it seriously and with respect for his supporters. If he is not conservative, make your case and explain what conservatism is. No one at this point needs your snotty potshots or your supposedly withering one-liners. I confess I have lost patience with many of those declaring they cannot in good conscience support him, not because reasons of conscience are not crucial—they are, and if they apply they should be declared. But some making these declarations managed in good conscience, indeed with the highest degree of self-regard, to back the immigration proposals of George W. Bush that contributed so much to the crisis that produced Mr. Trump. They invented Sarah Palin. They managed to support the global attitudes and structures that left the working class jobless. They dreamed up the Iraq war.
Sometimes I think their consciences are really not so delicate.
As for the political consultants who insult Mr. Trump so vigorously, they are the ones who did most to invent him. What do they ever do in good conscience?