Mainstream media commentators, even among the conservative mainstream, have declared that war is underway in the GOP. Republicans, they say, are in a life and death struggle for the heart of soul of the Party. These commentators, even on Fox, have warned that continuing such a war will all but doom their election chances in November. One observer on Fox stated today, Feb. 29, that continuing this war will not only doom the GOP’s chances for the presidency but may also insure that they lose both the U.S. Senate and the House. Maybe, but maybe not. One poll in particular, published today, Feb. 29, shows that Trump may beat Hillary in the state of New York. And in politics you must win to influence the heart and soul of your Party.
For example, some within the GOP do not take such a morbid point of view, at least not when it comes to Trump. Many conservatives welcome the opportunity to debate not only when it comes to declared candidates but to call attention to the Party’s tendency at times to stray from its ideals. Engaging in the battle to preserve those ideals is an important part of the process and offers a clear alternative to the Democrats.
One of the best role models for this mode of operation was William F. Buckley, who not only laid the philosophical foundation for conservatism in the second half of the 20th century but worked to prevent that conservatism from being usurped by extremists who would hurt the movement rather than help. This applied to ultra extremist conservatives as well as liberals or even moderates whom Buckley viewed as a distinct danger because of their tendency to appear outwardly as appealing and innocuous. The two examples of the Buckley way that are often cited are his decision to throw the John Birch Society out of the movement, and to withdraw his endorsement of Richard Nixon in his 1972 bid for reelection. But Buckley could be most accommodating to some of those in the movement with whom he disagreed.
In a display of consistency with its past, the magazine National Review, founded by Buckley, did a thorough cover story on the reasons it would not endorse Donald Trump. Senior Editor Rich Lowry took heavy criticism from some members of his own Party over the snub of Trump. But whether one agrees with the decision or not, Lowry was well within the Buckley tradition when he made it clear that National Review would not and could not endorse a candidate like Trump. In the past Lowry has also accommodated some candidates who did not quite live up to conservative ideals.
Trump, however, at least appears to be a man in transition. When the staunch southern conservative Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., endorsed Trump, a story leaked out that Trump was privately being coached by Sessions. If this is the case, then perhaps Trump is sincere when he says some of his views have changed. But such a thing can also show that Trump sought out someone like Sessions in order to give the impression he had become a thoroughgoing conservative when he may not have changed anything at all. Only Trump knows the answer to that question, and his answer may mean the difference between victory and defeat for the Republicans in November.