I wrote a column in our most recent issue pondering why the Republican Party’s moderate wing has not broken ranks during the Trump administration. In the National Review, Ben Shapiro writes a response to a completely different question than the one I asked. “The reason that conservatives aren’t joining Democrats to stop Trump’s agenda,” he reasons, “is that Trump’s agenda is far more conservative than that of Democrats.”
Well, yes, right. I have no curiosity about why conservatives have stuck to Trump. My curiosity is about the most moderate Republicans. That’s why I began my column addressing an argument by David Brooks, whom I identified as the Times op-ed page’s “ambassador from the center-right.” And that’s why the column again noted that it was describing “moderate Republicans,” and then again called them “Republicans who have shown a desire to move their party to the center,” and then restated the issue once again as, “The absence of Republican moderates, among both elected officials and intellectuals associated with the party, willing to openly join or work with the Democratic Party.”
To make it even more clear, I further stipulated it would “make sense” that “those Republicans, like Paul Ryan, most committed to the conservative movement’s ideological goals” would “harness their program to the ethnonationalist base that Trump commands.”
I thought this extreme redundancy would grow tiresome. Instead, the multiple repetitions of my point somehow still escaped a writer for a major publication, who proceeded to base an entire response to my column upon missing its premise.
“Why do Chait and so many like him in the Democratic Party seem bizarrely puzzled,” Shapiro asks, “by the lack of movement from the right to the left?” Let me be perfectly clear (though perfect clarity may be an impossible aspiration when one’s target audience includes Ben Shapiro): I am not remotely puzzled that Ben Shapiro, and people who agree with Ben Shapiro, would vote for politicians who support and protect Donald Trump.
Shapiro should support Trump. Many intellectuals associated with the far-right wing of the Republican Party initially opposed Trump in large part because they believed he would not hew faithfully to conservative-movement dogma. That analysis has proven wrong, and it accordingly makes sense for them to support what has been the most faithfully conservative presidency since the New Deal. As I argued before the 2016 election, the synthesis of authoritarianism and economic libertarianism represented by Trump is a culmination of the GOP’s long rightward lurch. The only thing that puzzles me about Shapiro is how long it is taking him to swallow his pride and recognize how much he and Trump have in common.
I question Shapiro’s reading-comprehension skills. I do not question the chosen political vehicle for operationalizing his ideology. It is the Republican moderates who should be looking around wondering what their party has done for them.