On Conservative Infighting

Rifts are a fact of life when groups of people are involved. Of course, that only makes sense; society is made of individuals, each with their own views, thoughts, and experience of life. WIth so many variables, the idea of perfect cohesion is a pipe dream, at best. Even a city made of robots and computers would end up with differing factions emerging, if only because a bug was present in the code of a single machine. Humans are not robots. We are not statues. We are living, breathing, feeling beings, no two of which have ever been, and never will be, identical. That divergence from homogeneity is the key to both the problems and the solutions of society. Like atoms, people are single entities that come together to form a larger body.

Political affiliations create some of the largest associations within the United States. Ideologies, be they politics, religion, musical preference, etc., spark the most compelling conversations and disagreements. One could possibly argue that Hitler killed over hair and eye color, but the importance of those traits was derived from other spiritual and religious beliefs.

Throughout the year, Gallup has conducted numerous polls inquiring as to the political leanings of American citizens. In October, 27% of those polled identified as Republican, 32% identified as Democrat. Somewhat unsurprisingly, 36% identified as Independent. What is surprising, however, is the fact that the 36% figure is right around the average for the Independent column. The number has fluctuated over the years (this poll dates back to January 2, 2004), with a high of 47%, and a low of 27%, but has largely remained at just over one-third of voters. Most often, we consider Republicans and Democrats as making up the largest factions in American politics. That is partially true. The two parties do represent the largest groupings of people identified by a political label. To leave it at that would be to only tell a portion of the story.

In 1953, the average approval of President Eisenhower among Republicans was 88%, and 49% among Democrats. Eisenhower was a Republican, so the approval rating amongst Republicans would be expected to be higher, as people tend to see members of their own party in a friendlier light. That 49% would mark the highest average approval of a president by members of the opposing party from 1953. Since 2008, the average approval of President Obama by Republicans has been 14%, the lowest by an opposing party of the presidential terms studied. (As an interesting side note, the long-held idea that Jimmy Carter was everyone’s least favorite president holds true to the numbers; he had a 30% approval by Republicans, and only a 57% approval by Democrats.)

Numbers tell a story, when placed in the right context. These particular numbers tell a story of a nation whose political ideologies have been drifting farther and farther apart, creating a larger gap in the middle. That middle ground is where a plurality of Americans find themselves. While the independent voter may find himself the intended audience of a presidential speech, or a litany of campaign promises, presidential candidates have tended to speak toward the independent voter, while walking backwards away from the middle. The most recent election cycle provided a clear example in the form of a previously demonized political stance: socialism. Semantics and misinformation regarding the system aside, the fact is that the Democratic Party was shaken by a far-left contingent which carried with it enough support to force Hillary Clinton to not only acknowledge it, but to cater to it in her speeches.

A similar but opposite set of events occurred within the GOP, with the rise of Donald Trump, first as a universally recognized joke, all the way to defeating Hillary Clinton and claiming the title of President-Elect. Rather than politicians within the GOP aligning themselves with the voting base, numerous voters re-aligned themselves with Trump. In a September article written by Ben Shapiro and published on The Daily Wire, it was considered that the nomination of Trump as the GOP candidate could mark the end of the conservative movement. Whether it did or did not is less important than the differing reactions to the thought. Many who had grown disillusioned with the failures of the conservative movement to actually fight and win for conservatism looked upon the possible death of the movement as a necessary vacating of the metaphoric throne in order to make room for something new. Others saw the idea as a break from principle and morality, the core tenants of any movement.

Disagreements between opposing sides are natural and expected. They are what define the sides as being in opposition. Disagreements within a group are much more impactful. Infighting always weakens the cohesion of a group. Consider a group of people to be a tree, and internal dissent to be an army of termites. Eventually, that internal instability will destroy the structural integrity of the group, causing the group to collapse. Unfortunately, this is the sort of thing we are seeing now within the GOP.

The rise of Donald Trump has created paradoxes at every single turn. The greatest one may be that he has strengthened the party which he now represents as the presumptive leader of the free world. While there is certainly disagreement and concern within the contingent of those who would consider themselves Conservatives, a vast majority of those on the right have consolidated behind the man with a million names. Regardless of what comical nickname you may use to refer to Cheeto Jesus, the Orange God-King, Trumplestiltskin (my personal favorite), one moniker in particular rises above the rest, due, if for no other reason, to its irrefutable accuracy: President-Elect.

At no point in time up until Nov. 8 did I support Donald Trump. Personally, I saw him as an untrustworthy figurehead, whom I doubted could win, and who I was sure would spark incessant outrage per day. Trump did win though, proving me wrong on one of two assertions. The other is yet to be determined. Either way, as someone who detests the expansion of Federal powers and an overfed executive branch, Trump has my support. This is the paradox. Thousands of Republicans, right-leaning Independents, and third-party voters who vote Republican assumed the label “Never Trump.” My personal statement was that “[m]y #NeverTrump isn’t nearly as strong as my #NeverHillary.” That explains the paradox. Though so many openly hated the idea of Trump being the representative of conservatism, the same group would mostly consider the irritation of a Trump presidency to be a lesser evil than the certain disaster that Clinton would have force-marched through the next four years.

As is natural and expected, the level of support for Trump among conservatives runs a wide range, from idol-worship to the openly hoping for failure, both of which are dangerous. On the one hand, idol-worship, when said idol is a person, is a recipe for widespread disaster and atrocity. From my personal soapbox, remember that no political figure is anything more than a person, fallible and with significantly more power than the average bear. On the other hand, the petty practice of hoping for a leader to fail can be equally detrimental. For one, the success of a president typically translates to success for society as a whole. Secondly, such an intensely repugnant sense of moral superiority drives others further to one side. The same attitude has been argued as the reason Clinton lost, as most people were simply tired of being told how awful they were.

Division of thought and opinion is a necessity for a society to progress and grow. Were it not for free-thinkers dissenting from the status-quo, the Sun would still revolve around the Earth. The battleground of ideas should be less like a backyard brawl, and more like a game of chess, with each party making a point, to be received and countered in a civil and thoughtful fashion. The attitude that those who did not fully support Trump are traitors and should be treated as such is just as detrimental as the idea that opposing Trump affords one some sort of moral or intellectual superior status.

Cohesion within a group affords it survival. When people lose sight of proper prioritization, strategy falls soon after, and the opportunity to lead is close behind. Principle is the core of conservatism, and those principles are better than the principles most often ascribed to the left side of the political spectrum. Those principles are why we are conservatives, as such an act of allying oneself is a choice. Those principles are infinitely more important than any one person, even a president-elect. Our job is not to support Trump without fail, or to pine for his failure. There is a saying often used to tout or condemn patriotism, which goes “My country, right or wrong.” That is only half of the saying, though. The original and full statement was “Our country! In her intercourse with foreign nations, may she always be in the right; but our country, right or wrong.” The statement is about ideals, about what our country should be, and what we have to do to make her so.

When something is right, it should be lauded as right. When something is wrong, it should be acknowledged and worked to make right. That is our job as conservatives, and more importantly, as citizens. To those convinced of Trump’s deification, remember that the principles on which we stand must be heralded above any one person. To those feeling superior in their lack of support, remember that cohesion is what keeps a movement together. On either side, attacking fellow conservatives is never acceptable except behind closed doors. If we are to maintain conservatism as a movement, then coming together is the first step, from which all others may follow.

Alex is currently in his 3rd year of law school. He graduated college with a degree in Social Science with a focus in Homeland Security, and is an avid student of philosophy and behavioral science.