What the Hell Happened?

You can still see that much of the conservative establishment remains in a state of shock that Donald Trump has rolled up the field in convincing fashion. Not two weeks ago it was assumed that there would be a contested convention in Cleveland. Now the fallback position is a contest over the platform, or maybe insisting the convention choose Trump’s running mate, which neither party has done for more than 60 years. I doubt either will happen (partly because Trump will ignore the platform and say anything he wants, and the delegates couldn’t possibly come together spontaneously on a VP nominee).

Yesterday Charles Krauthammer reflected that Trump’s nomination victory means that “the GOP, the nation’s conservative party, its ideology refined and crystallized by Ronald Reagan, has just gone populist.”

This sent me back to an essay Harvey C. Mansfield wrote right after Reagan’s first landslide victory in 1980. Mansfield wrote this:

Reagan would be well advised to find his conservatism in the Constitution rather than to adopt a conservative populism. If he does the latter, he is likely to discover that the radical means of populism will overcome and outlast the conservative ends.

We can argue about how well Reagan lived up to this advice (pretty well is my opinion—certainly better than either President Bush) and whether his legacy bears any responsibility for the current chaos, but the specter Mansfield worried about has clearly arrived. Yes, it has been a long time in coming, and a lot of us missed its arrival. Mansfield, I suspect, is not surprised.


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