These are trying times at the Trump Tower, with Republican Establishment types lined up all the way down Fifth Avenue to stack their arms and surrender. It brings to mind France in 1940. Mein Gott, ve don’t haf room! Vere do we put der guns?
There are of course a few holdouts, the dwindling band of NeverTrump folks. Perhaps, like the maquisards of the French resistance, they’ll take to the hills. With Albert — Albert Camus. Not that I’m too worried about this. I don’t expect to see them blowing up too many bridges. Less even than in Occupied France.
The fact is that Trump has united the Republican Party, and that the remaining dissidents are devoid of political interest. In their salons, their little blogs, they talk to each other. They proclaim their devotion to their principles, pur et dur, and hug themselves in self-delight. Others might capitulate, but they never. And yet, at the back of their minds is the hope, never wholly acknowledged, that the candidate must eventually come to them.
“It’s all very well to win some primaries,” they tell us. “Wait till the general!” Then we’ll see. Winning elections is a hugely complicated matter, with microdata and get-out-the-vote drives. “That’s when they’re come begging back to us.”
After all, just look at just how effectively Ted Cruz’s campaign used microdata. He spent millions putting together more than 4,000 data points on every single American voter. He knew what we bought, who are friends are, what our issues were. He knew if we were bad or good. And here in D.C. his people would smirk at the poor, unsophisticated Trump supporters, who vainly imagined that their candidate might somehow speak to the people directly, above the heads of the data-obsessed insiders.
And then think of all the expertise we can offer, says the Establishment insider. The Trump team will move into an empty White House, and that’s when they’ll come calling. Do you want to nation-build in Iraq, in Afghanistan? Why, we’re the people for that! Do you want to bail out Wall Street? Look no further! Nous voilà!
The conceit that the game is run by the experts, that ordinary voters are rubes led about by their noses, is common to both Party establishments. It’s how the Obama crowd thought they had won the 2012 election, and it was supposed to anoint Ted Cruz as the Republican candidate. Obama described an electorate that clung to its guns and religion, a sentiment echoed by Republican deep thinkers. The Tea Party types, the Evangelicals, we’d let them serve us so long as they didn’t bother us overmuch with their ideas. Why they are permitted to vote at all is even something of a puzzlement. In academic circles on the right, it’s common to speak of irrational voters, people so ill-informed that our system of government should be structured to silence them.
That’s how our Founders thought. It’s how Thomas Jefferson thought. He imagined a future America ruled by its natural aristocrats, people of superior virtue and talent, people who would rise to commanding positions. People our Republican insiders and intellectuals imagine themselves to be. Jefferson wasn’t the democrat we take him to be, you see. Surprisingly, John Adams was more democratic. Suppose that, as Jefferson imagined, voters would prefer genius to birth, virtue to beauty, and that a meritocracy of intelligence and character were chosen to lead the country. Even then, said the skeptical Adams, I would wish to place a check on their ambition. No class of people can safely be given unlimited power over others.
That’s what that insignificant worm, the ordinary Republican voter, has figured out. The well-cocooned Establishment insider isn’t hurting, but his 59-point plans haven’t done much for those who are. He’s preached a perfect fidelity to principle, but communicated an indifference to people. With Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, he’s divided up the world between the 53 percent of givers and the 47 percent of schnorrers, but are we quite sure which side of the line he’s on?
Still, the Establishment Republican waits for the Liberation, and the épuration of his enemies. And then, years from now, seated around a table, the children will ask him, “Tell us, mon cher grand-père, what did you do in the war?” “Eh bien, mes enfants. It was not easy,” he will say. “There were dinners. Lots and lots of dinners.”
He has followed his rules, and they were perfect rules. But even then a moment of doubt will creep in, when he recalls Anton Chigurh’s question from No Country for Old Men. If the rule you followed brought you to this, of what use was the rule?