“The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles,” Kevin D. Williamson wrote recently in The National Review, the stalwart voice of the right for more than 60 years.
The conservative intelligentsia — the collection of free traders, tax cutters and government shrinkers who have dictated the Republican Party’s agenda since the Eighties — have had it with the losers of globalization who make up a significant portion of the party’s base: the white males of modest education who have been most full-throated in their support of Donald Trump.
In the mainstream organs like the op-ed pages of The New York Times or the editorials of The Wall Street Journal, right-wing columnists might support using the Republican convention process to deny Trump the nomination, but they discuss it in language that offers some respect to the legitimate anger of Trump’s supporters. Last week, David Brooks tried to play nice, writing, “Well, some respect is in order. Trump voters are a coalition of the dispossessed. They have suffered lost jobs, lost wages, lost dreams.”
Brooks’ niceties will prove too weak a dam to hold back the anger that conservative intellectuals indulge with every Trump victory. The Trump supporters might register Republican and have been counted on to vote the party’s way in past elections (flirting for a while with Pat Buchanan in 1992 and 1996, then voting for George H.W. Bush and Robert Dole against the hated Bill Clinton in the general) but they are, from the point of view of right-leaning think tanks, pretty lousy conservatives.
We saw a hint of this in 2005, when George W. Bush suggested reforming Social Security by partially privatizing the system. Even before the financial crisis, Bush couldn’t unite Republican voters behind the idea. Even Republicans like Social Security checks. We got another hint of this during the early Tea Party days when Paul Krugman relayed the story of an angry conservative who told his Congressman “keep your government hands off my Medicare.” It may well be that when Mitt Romney made his crack about the dependent 47 percent of Americans who would never vote for him that he was not talking only about liberal Democrats.