You did not have to watch a moment of the Conservative Political Action Conference (and for your mental hygiene, I hope you did not), to understand that “conservative” — like “cancel culture” or “fake news” — has no meaning. None of those words carry any intellectual weight today. They are expressions of opposition — against the “liberal elites” — and of resentment. “Cancel culture” is an attitude of defiance and an unwillingness to be held accountable for one’s actions or words. “Fake news” signifies anger over facts that contradict the worldview of white grievance and cult worship.

If conservatism no longer means belief in objective reality, reverence for the rule of law, fiscal sobriety, recognition of universal human rights or public virtue, the Republican Party has no value (or values, frankly).

The Bulwark’s William Kristol argues in favor of putting democracy and other American ideals ahead of ideological loyalty. “A conservative considers how adherence to—or deviation from—certain principles would help or hurt the goals conservatism seeks to achieve,” he writes. “Because it is these goals—liberty, justice, good government, democracy, stability, and so on—that matter. Not the ‘-ism.’ Conservatism is a means to those goals, not an end in itself.”

And I would go further: Whatever conservatism is these days — a reactionary stance, an irrational resentment, a delusionary cult — it has no principles at all. As we saw from the golden calf — er, the golden Trump statue — at CPAC (never has a group had less self-awareness than that crowd) and the utter lack of any policy discussion at the event, this is a party rooted in multiple lost causes. To the lost cause of White Christian domination, the MAGA crowd has added the lost cause of a mythical stolen election.

Today’s GOP rationalizes defeat as a sellout by the establishment that simply lacked the patriotism and will to triumph over it enemies. Seething with resentment, the MAGA right considers revenge — “owning the libs” — to be an end unto itself.

You will note that none of this has anything to do with politics, public policy or problem-solving. Even if Republicans held power, they could not abolish “cancel culture.” They could not make White Christians into a majority of the population, as they once were in America. They could not eradicate an overwhelming majority of voters who are roused by the Black Lives Matter movement and support the American creed that “all men are created equal.”

Their top political goal — voter suppression — is the only means by which they seek to capture power in an increasingly diverse America. In dozens of states, Republicans are frantic to enact voting restrictions — justified by the myth of the stolen election. It is arguably the only public cause that truly excites them.

And so we return to the question of how to sustain conservatism and a party to house it. Unless and until conservatism comes to resemble a philosophy of governance and policy agenda reflective of American values, any loyalty to conservatism is empty. As for the Republican Party, without a democratic (small “d”) ethos and viable ideology (moderation? centrism? 19th century liberalism?), it serves only as a receptacle of resentment, cult worship and racism.

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