Mark Steyn puts a dynamic of this election season in focus, I think:
If the present polls hold up through Iowa and New Hampshire, it’d be the reconfiguration of Mr and Mrs Main Street America as just another interest group. So a philosophical commitment to free trade means less to them than the degeneration of mill and factory towns into wastelands of fast-food service jobs and heroin addiction. An abstract respect for religious pluralism means less to them than reducing the number of crazies running around whose last words before opening fire are “Allahu akbar!” A theoretical belief in private-sector health care means less to them than not getting stiffed by crappy five-figure health “insurance” that can be yanked out from under you at any moment under Byzantine rules and regulations that change 30 times a day. And bipartisan myth-making about “a nation of immigrants” means a whole lot less than another decade of Press One For English, flatlined wages, sanctuary cities and remorseless cultural transformation…
Steyn begins by quoting Rush Limbaugh suggesting (as Steyn summarizes) that “there are insufficient takers for conservatism,” leading to its replacement by nationalism and populism, as evidenced by Donald Trump’s popularity. He then notes that the party that was supposed to bring the principles of conservatism to government over the last, say, 50 years has not done so; at best it’s brought a slightly slower progressivism.
Both Donald Trump’s unlabeled political poses and Ted Cruz’s explicit standing as a conservative suggest that it isn’t the principles of conservatism that have “insufficient takers,” but the notion that politicians in the party that everybody thought was conservative (though it hasn’t really been so for a long time) could be trusted actually to be conservative. So, as Steyn says, many of those who understand that generally conservative principles would benefit them personally have simply stepped to the “next level” and are favoring a guy who’s as likely as not to do everything they’ve said Obama was wrong to do, but on their behalf.
Just as the only way to change local governance here in Rhode Island is for people to take a slightly more active interest in it, the only way to avoid a left-right catastrophe may be to shore up principle and prove that it can work. Unfortunately, just as the painfully slow progress reformers are able to make in the Ocean State makes their job even more difficult as time goes on, conservatives’ natural constituents are going to be more likely to demand immediate shows of fealty and direct benefits over indirect, long-term policies that benefit them because our society is healthier.