Behind the Trump/NeverTrump intellectual divide

Our friend Tevi Troy, author of the excellent new book Shall We Wake The President?: Two Centuries of Disaster Management from the Oval Office, has written an enlightening article for Politico about the way in which Donald Trump’s candidacy has split conservative intellectuals. Tevi argues that the conservative intellectual divide over Trump corresponds to a longstanding East Coast-West Coast split — the feud between East Coast and West Coast Straussians.

According to Tevi:

West Coast Straussians are more focused on the threat posed by the administrative state to self-governance, and yet are also more inclined to believe in the power of strong individual leaders in great moments of crisis to shape political life.

East Coast Straussians tend to be more protective of the institutional architecture of the Constitution, not only as a manifestation of the general principles of the Declaration of Independence but also as hard-headed constraints on political power and will, because they are more skeptical of the potential of individual statesmen and of the mass public to transform politics.

You don’t need a degree in political science to understand how this split might yield conflicting views about Trump’s candidacy, and which camp would set up where.

Tevi predicts that if Trump loses, conservatives will likely reunite, after a period of recrimination. As he puts it:

Should there be a 2020 nominee with strong rhetorical skills and a Reaganite vision who can bring the party back together—and opposition to Hillary’s first-term agenda will likely prove a unifying banner—these differences might once again recede in the interest of pursuing a shared agenda.

However, if Trump wins the differences might well intensify:

The NeverTrump faction would be on the alert for deviations from conservative principles, likely digging in against them and even rooting for failure, and a chance to say “I told you so” to misguided peers. The pro-Trumpers would circle the wagons around a Republican president, angered by the disloyalty toward a Republican in the White House. A conservative challenger to an incumbent Trump in 2020 would further exacerbate these differences. . . .

It is hard to imagine the East Coasters or the West Coasters saluting and coming on board with a movement that went strongly in one direction or the other. And even among the intelligentsia, it is far from clear what policies would form the consensus approach that could bind them together once again—and what set of principles would define a party whose banner is currently carried by such an unpredictable candidate.

I recommend reading Tevi’s entire article.