It’s no secret that many Republican insiders are scared that Donald Trump may actually win the nomination for president. They view the billionaire real estate mogul with a proclivity for making politically incorrect statements as a disaster for the party in a general election.
For months, Republican-aligned pundits have said, “Trump won’t be the nominee.” Yet, few of the attacks against Trump, who holds significant leads in most early primary states, have done any real damage to his campaign. In fact, his support has intensified and grown, leaving the pundit class scratching their heads.
Trump’s rise in the polls may seem difficult to grasp. After all, he has said and done things that are severely out-of-step with conservative principles, such as using eminent domain to take private property for private purposes, past support for single-payer health care, and contributions to Democratic congressional campaigns.
Despite a record that is a generally an affront to conservatism — one that may have icons like William F. Buckley and Russell Kirk spinning in their graves — Trump has garnered support because he has tailored his message to appeal directly to the GOP’s conservative base. The reason it’s resonating is because the Republican establishment has long taken advantage of conservative activists.
The conflict between conservatives and the Republican establishment had been building up for some time. President George W. Bush’s brand of “compassionate conservatism” turned out to be a budget-buster. For many, the final two years of his administration, as bailouts and other interventions in the economy became further ingrained in the status quo, were when the tensions began boiling over.
More recently, uninspiring presidential nominees, John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012, and milquetoast congressional leaders, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, further pushed away conservatives. The lack of a bold vision based on conservative reforms and prominent figures to effectively articulate such a message are among the biggest sources of the conservative grassroots’ frustration.