By Jonathon Van Maren
I’m not quite as optimistic as many people seem to be about the midterm elections today, although I may be as wrong as I was about Donald Trump’s ability to get elected president. The nonstop and frenzied political carousel that America seems to be trapped on is sometimes exhausting to the bone, especially for those of us who more or less need to keep track of what is going on. Aside from Trump’s die-hard fans, I imagine a lot of people must be sick of the circus, regardless of who you think the ringmaster is and who you think the monkeys are.
There are some Republican commentators, like Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk, who seem to be adopting the same triumphalism the Democrats were forced to swallow so painfully after Clinton lost the presidency. I think that’s dangerous. On the other hand, many of Trump’s most strident critics still do not seem to entirely understand the combination of forces that put him in office in the first place. In the heavily-protested Munk Debate on populism last week between David Frum and Steve Bannon, the two of them duked it out over economic models that most of us don’t have enough expertise in to judge accurately, while skipping over the grievances of many of the factions that ended up delivering Trump the presidency.
Frum, at one point, highlighted Trump’s attacks on the Left, following that up with a dry, “whatever that is.” That brief comment indicated that Frum does not truly understand why evangelicals, terrified of the ongoing suffocation of religious liberty, voted for a man that many of them find to be personally distasteful (the nauseating sycophants like Jerry Falwell Jr. being another story entirely.) “The Left” may simply constitute people Frum has pleasant dinner party debates with, but to many of his fellow citizens they pose an active threat to deeply-held beliefs and an entire way of life. There were certainly economic factors to Trump’s victory, but that is only one part of the story.
I find myself agreeing with Rod Dreher, who stated that his prediction is “a House turned Democratic, a Senate still Republican, and Trump still in his place”:
I can live with that. For me, a non-Republican conservative, the only thing I really care about at this point are getting enough judges in place to form some kind of line of defense of religious and social conservatives in the years and decade to come. Trump has been a bad president, but after he goes, it’s going to mean the déluge for people like me. The undifferentiated wrath of the left is going to fall on Robert Jeffress and Russell Moore alike. Sooner or later, the spiteful spasms of injustice we all saw at the Kavanaugh hearings are going to have power in this country, and it is going to be a dark day for religious and social conservatives, whether they supported Trump or not.
Thus far, Trump has delivered for social conservatives, and that has admittedly bought him loyalty from those who initially viewed him with deep skepticism (and despite his often repulsive personal antics). Even Dreher admits that there are circumstances under which he would vote for Trump in 2020. Interestingly, it very much appears as if Hillary Clinton is priming herself for another presidential run, musing strategically that she “has the experience” to fix the alliances that Trump has supposedly laid waste to. Political predictions have been even more useless lately than in decades past, but I’d put a lot of money on Hillary giving it another shot—after all, the presidency is all she’s ever really wanted, and at this point, she has nothing left to lose (and, as Christopher Hitchens would say, no one left to lie to.)
If the Republicans can hold onto the Senate, conservatives have a real crack at transforming the judiciary for a generation, maybe longer. (Interestingly, since Kavanaugh’s confirmation there hasn’t been a peep about him from Democrats, so perhaps they realize they overplayed their hand–especially as Kavanaugh accusers publicly admit they were lying.) There is the potential for another Supreme Court seat, and certainly the opportunity to flip a couple of circuit courts. The judges confirmed during the Trump Administration so far have been “Scalias all the way down” in the words of the Wall Street Journal, and as Dreher noted, perhaps these justices will be able to hold the line when the Left regains power and turns its attention to religious liberty once again. We will certainly need them.
For anyone interested, my book on The Culture War, which analyzes the journey our culture has taken from the way it was to the way it is and examines the Sexual Revolution, hook-up culture, the rise of the porn plague, abortion, commodity culture, euthanasia, and the gay rights movement, is available for sale here.