The right can survive liberal presidents. Trump will kill its best ideas for a generation.
The best hope for what’s left of a serious conservative movement in America is the election in November of a Democratic president, held in check by a Republican Congress. Conservatives can survive liberal administrations, especially those whose predictable failures lead to healthy restorations—think Carter, then Reagan. What isn’t survivable is a Republican president who is part Know Nothing, part Smoot-Hawley and part John Birch. The stain of a Trump administration would cripple the conservative cause for a generation.
This is the reality that wavering Republicans need to understand before casting their lot with a presumptive nominee they abhor only slightly less than his likely opponent. If the next presidency is going to be a disaster, why should the GOP want to own it?
In the 1990s, when another Clinton was president, conservatives became fond of the phrase “character counts.” This was a way of scoring points against Bill Clinton for his sexual predations and rhetorical misdirections, as well as a statement that Americans expected honor and dignity in the Oval Office. I’ll never forget the family friend, circa 1998, who wondered how she was supposed to explain the meaning of a euphemism for oral sex to her then 10-year-old daughter.
Conservatives still play the character card against Hillary Clinton, citing her disdain for other people’s rules, her Marie Antoinette airs and her potential law breaking. It’s a fair card to play, if only the presumptive Republican nominee weren’t himself a serial fabulist, an incorrigible self-mythologizer, a brash vulgarian, and, when it comes to his tax returns, a determined obfuscator. Endorsing Mr. Trump means permanently laying to rest any claim conservatives might ever again make on the character issue.Read The WSJ Editor Bret Stephen's op-ed HERE.
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