Since Trump would not win the general election, these sincere conservatives would not be “losing” an election; that would be accomplished by Trump’s nomination. Think of it as saving modern conservatism in an election the Grand Old Party forfeited.
At any rate, even if Trump does not get the nomination (which I think still is overwhelmingly probable), we have learned a lot about the right and its cast of characters:
1. The loudest, most unhinged voices in the blogosphere and on talk radio (I am certainly not talking about thoughtful, principled conservatives such as Bill Bennett, Michael Medved or Hugh Hewitt) who continue to revere Trump are not “conservatives” (for Trump is not one), but nativists. Continetti has it pegged when he observes, “Trump’s nationalism has far more in common with the conservatism of Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s National Front, than with the conservatism of Ronald Reagan.” The same is true of the gaggle of right-wing talk radio hosts. Their interest (aside from preserving a shrinking but increasingly shrill audience) is not to further the interests of the GOP or the principles of modern conservatism.
2. It is a mistake to imitate Trump, for his followers will take nothing but the “real deal,” and the 70 percent or so of the existing GOP that will not support him finds his views abhorrent. If you try to straddle the traditional GOP and the Le Pen-like Trumpkins, you wind up, like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) contorting and contradicting yourself, which only makes you less appealing to both sides of the divide. Better to inspire confidence, offer a hopeful message and galvanize everyone else who may vote in the primary.
3. The real “solution” to Trump is a candidate widely accepted by traditional Republicans but who can speak to the anxieties and frustrations of voters who feel economically and now physically insecure. That will leave Trump with a segment of his hard-core fans, some of whom may not show up either in the primary or the general election. For the large majority of Republicans and some true independents, that candidate would provide an attractive alternative to Hillary Clinton in the general election.
4. The media like to portray evangelicals as part of the right wing. In the case of the nativist, anti-government crowd following Trump, however, evangelicals stand apart. In fact, as we see from rising criticism of Trump among evangelicals, their devotion to their faith puts them at odds temperamentally with the crass, mean-spirited Trump as well as ideologically on key issues. It is not simply that Trump supported Planned Parenthood and won’t promise to defund it. Evangelicals are deeply attached to Israel, are intent on defending Christians under siege from the Islamic State and truly believe the United States is a “shining city on the hill” — a country that defines itself not simply because of power but because of its beliefs. Evangelicals may be critical in defeating Trump; they’re certainly not going to be a significant part of his electorate.
5. Trumpkins are not simply the product of “establishment” Republicans’ failures. The coalescing of these voters is also the result of years of conspiracy theorizing, cries of “betrayal” and demonizing of compromise and good governance. (And, of course, economic insecurity and dislocation as well as international threats often promote Strong Men who offer authoritarianism mixed with a heavy dose of xenophobia.) If staunch conservatives don’t like what they see in Trump, they might look back on the messages they have been sending and the insistence on “all or nothing” politics. They promoted anger and resentment, and now the anger and resentment threaten to drown them and wash away the traditional GOP.
6. The notion of “lost conservative” voters that Cruz, Trumpkins and others embrace is factually wrong, as numerous respected voices have shown. (It, however, gives these characters the patina of electability if they can produce a majority that thinks just like they do.) Trump should prove once and for all that the search for “missing” white right-wingers is doomed since finding and rallying these people forfeits 70 percent of the GOP. Ironically, this simply reinforces the conclusion that if you want a governing majority that will enact conservative laws, the GOP has to look to Hispanics, women and urbanites to add to their traditional base. In essence, the GOP must find people who could be receptive and even inspired by their message rather than change the entire ethos of the party to pick up a relatively small number of disaffected, irregular voters.