Politics and news can be fascinating and consequential stuff, but I’m afraid that, for my own peace of mind, I tend to step back somewhat from following it when liberal Democratic administrations are in power doing all sorts of disturbing things. Of course, even during these times, I’m still aware of some things that are happening, and, inevitably, the approach of each new presidential campaign draws me back in to the realm of public policy and political candidates. Unfortunately, it seems like just about every time I do turn my attention to government and politics again, I find more and more things to perplex and disturb me. Whether considering the decisions of the American people in the last few years to elect and then re-elect a president who is (to me) such a clearly terrible choice for the position, the latest outrageous domestic or foreign policy initiatives of that president’s administration, court rulings that don’t seem to have any connection to interpreting actual laws or the Constitution, or the unwillingness of Congress to stand up for itself or the things its members claim to believe or to even try to stop the president from carrying out his “transformation of America,” the news of the day can tempt a person to throw up her hands in despair, head off to hide somewhere, and watch only safe old TV show reruns for the rest of her life instead.
These external issues are troublesome enough, but some of the coverage surrounding the current Republican presidential campaign landscape has just about pushed me over the edge of an internal political identity crisis that has been developing for a while now. To step back for a moment, the time I most intently followed current events roughly covered the span between the 2000 and 2008 elections. It doesn’t seem all that long ago, but I guess 15 years have flown by pretty quickly and are plenty of time for some serious changes to take place. Still, even though things didn’t all shift at once, I almost feel like I’d imagine a disoriented Rip van Winkle must have upon finding himself in a world that had changed substantially while he slept.
Back in 2008, I recall Mitt Romney being seen by conservatives as a preferable option to try to stop the moderate John McCain from getting the Republican nomination. By the run-up to the 2012 election, it seemed he’d turned into an awful “establishment” candidate with a seemingly endless list of negatives in the eyes of many on the right. When I watched the debates after hearing months of heavy criticism of Governor Romney, I found myself feeling almost guilty as I thought, “Heaven help me, I still like the guy.” And, while there may have been another candidate with a more consistently conservative record who won my vote in the primary, I had no qualms about supporting Romney as the nominee.
A couple of years later, attention turned (even earlier than usual, it seemed) to possible candidates for the 2016 presidential election, and Jeb Bush’s name kept coming up. In the old days, I remember him as a successful conservative governor, but he had now apparently become an enemy of those hoping to stop the leftward trajectory of our country. Although I’ve disagreed with Governor Bush’s views on immigration and been disappointed by some irksome comments he’s made on various occasions, I just don’t see him that way, and the prospect of him being the next nominee doesn’t upset me.
There also seems to be an increasingly common tendency to turn back and dwell on the perceived shortcomings of President George W. Bush. Of course he made some choices I’d rather he hadn’t, but, after spending so much time and mental energy supporting him during his time in office, I have no enthusiasm for retroactively abandoning him now, especially considering the actions of his successor in the White House.
So, although I’ve always considered myself to be a pretty conservative person, with all of this mounting evidence of a conflict between my perceptions and those of the conservative media members I was hearing, I had to reluctantly consider the possibility that I might actually be more like a member of that unfortunate species -- the mushy “moderate” -- than I’d like to think. Perhaps that’s the case (although I still don’t think most of my Democratic acquaintances would see it that way,) but I’m still not completely ready to concede the point.
In any case, as the presidential campaign season started to gear up, it was clear that many of those on the right felt that recent candidates have been too moderate, and they wanted future nominees to be more solidly conservative. Those points are reasonable enough, and I can certainly get behind the quest for a conservative nominee, so maybe I wouldn’t have to turn in my imaginary membership card in the “vast right-wing conspiracy” just yet. Alas, the next unexpected development that came along completely defied logic and has left me baffled ever since.
When I heard that Donald Trump was again talking about running for president, I just rolled my eyes. After all, hadn’t we already figured out the last time he toyed with the idea that, in addition to being basically a celebrity candidate without the kind of experience needed for the job, he has a past filled with support for liberal positions and politicians? I couldn’t imagine why “that guy” would think he’d have any chance in the ever-growing field of Republican candidates. After his campaign announcement, I was stunned to find that he was being taken seriously by people in conservative media and supported by so many potential voters in the polls, and I remain flabbergasted by his continuing “frontrunner” status.
Once again, it distresses me to be so at odds with things I hear on the radio or read in columns from people I’ve liked, respected, and admired for a long time, but I find myself completely incapable of understanding how people who passionately proclaim the importance of electing a conservative to the presidency can find Donald Trump to be an acceptable choice for the nomination or how it could be true that Trump’s lead is due to conservative voters asserting themselves in the polls. Thinking about these notions drives me to mutter in disbelief to myself or talk back to my computer screen because they just don’t compute. My poor, feeble brain reacts like a computer given incompatible data, and it doesn’t know what to do when people who insist that they want a conservative candidate support and defend someone who doesn’t even remotely fit that category.
So, “RINOs” and “crony capitalism” are big problems and a true conservative is needed, but a man who didn’t even adopt the Republican name until a few years ago, basically claims to have made a regular practice of buying favors from politicians on both sides of the aisle, and has taken liberal positions on just about everything in the past (and even into the present) is a suitable standard-bearer for the cause? How is that possible? Because at the moment he says he wants to build a wall along the southern border and is not afraid to speak his mind even if it might upset some people? Keeping in mind that many of the things he chooses to say are indeed disagreeable, wrong, and/or nonsensical, is this really supposed to be enough?? Maybe the problem lies with me and my powers of comprehension, but I just can’t see it. Something is very wrong with that scenario -- as it would be if a person turned down a couple of pancakes with a little syrup because she only wanted to have a healthy, low-calorie breakfast,then ignored the fruit plate, a bowl of Cheerios, and an egg white omelet before polishing off an entire box of jelly donuts instead!
This whole turn of events seems even more bizarre considering the size of the Republican field this time around. I’m aware that many people feel strongly that Jeb Bush is unacceptable, but he’s certainly not the only alternative to Donald Trump. At this point, I obviously can’t speculate with any confidence about who might qualify as a “real” conservative, but surely, with the vast array of declared candidates, those seeking one should be able to find someone to support to whom the term “conservative” might reasonably be applied without twisting its meaning almost beyond recognition. No one is perfect, but I would think that at least a Ted Cruz or Rick Santorum might fit the bill, if not (my Governor) Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal or one of the others.
If only those supporting the current frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination would pick one of these solid options instead, or choose several of them to watch as the contest unfolds, maybe I wouldn’t have to worry about feeling like the figure in Munch’s famous artwork, “The Scream,” every time I encounter political coverage. As it stands now, though, perhaps I’d best start looking for a nice, comfortable couch somewhere. It would at least give me a place to rest from my news-induced headaches while hiding from reality and focusing on old sitcom reruns. Better yet, if the couch happened to come with its own psychologist, maybe I could also get some help for my ideological identity crisis. We’ve all heard of fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, and national security conservatives, but I’m afraid that I now also belong to another category: the Confused Conservative. Judging by the current state of the primary landscape, it seems I’m far from the only one. I wonder if anybody offers a really good rate for mass group therapy...