By this point, the vast majority of conservative intellectuals have publicly denounced Donald Trump. Most of them depict Trump as an ideologically alien force, more liberal than conservative, whose very affiliation with the GOP is to be dismissed as an inexplicable mistake. But Robert Kagan’s anti-Trump column today differs from those others in two important respects. First, he connects the rise of Trump to the Republican Party’s generalized anti-Obama hysteria. He calls Trump “the party’s creation, its Frankenstein monster,” attributing his rise to “the party’s wild obstructionism,” its “accommodation to and exploitation of the bigotry in its ranks,” and — most daringly — its “Obama hatred, a racially tinged derangement syndrome that made any charge plausible and any opposition justified.” Republicans have challenged the party’s failure to develop legislative alternatives, but none of them have attacked its strategy of massive uncompromising opposition to the entire Obama agenda. (Except David Frum, who was quickly fired from his think-tank post.)
More daringly, Kagan does not merely denounce Trump, or even swear he will never support him (as other conservatives have done). He states plainly he would vote for Hillary Clinton over Trump. And that, of course, is the only real statement that has force in this context. It is one thing to staunchly oppose a candidate in the primary, but however fierce your opposition, there is always room to come home to the party if you lose the primary. Kagan is connecting Trump to the GOP’s extremism and saying that a Trump-led party is unsupportable. That is the sort of opposition that could turn a Trump defeat into an opportunity for internal reform.
Now, Kagan is a bit atypical. A prominent neoconservative intellectual, he has moved closer to the center and defended aspects of the Obama record. It is also interesting that Kagan, like Frum, hails from the neoconservative tradition. The neoconservatives were originally moderate liberal critics of the Democratic Party, who objected to its leftward turn in the 1960s and 1970s and began their exodus from the broader Democratic Party around the McGovern campaign. Most of them are deeply enmeshed in the conservative movement now and have views about the role of government indistinguishable from those of other conservatives. But, eventually, some faction will break loose from the GOP and form the basis for a sane party that is capable of governing. Who knows? Maybe that faction will be the one that moved into the party a half-century ago.