Conservatives are griping at each other a lot these days. If you haven’t noticed, I envy your ability to ignore the obvious. One of the problems, I think, is that people are talking past each other.
A major reason for this stems from the fact that Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have spent the last year lumped together by those conservatives who consider themselves “anti-establishment.” That’s fine, and it is absolutely true that both Trump and Cruz are anti-establishment. But being anti-establishment isn’t in and of itself an ideologically coherent worldview. Bernie Sanders is anti-establishment, too. That doesn’t make him conservative, does it?
While Ted Cruz may be slippery on this issue or that — like most politicians — he is obviously and clearly a conservative. Unless you are willing to take Donald Trump at his word — and a great many are for reasons that baffle me — he’s not a conservative. Or if you think that’s too harsh, the case that he’s a conservative requires an enormous amount of subjective good will and credulousness. Even those who hate Ted Cruz readily concede he’s a conservative, because that’s an objective judgment. There’s nothing in the record that requires Trump’s critics to make the same concession.
Think of it this way: There were Christians who were opposed to the Roman Empire and there were barbarian pagans opposed to the Roman Empire. One could, for strategic or conversational simplicity, refer to both groups as “anti-Roman” or even “anti-establishment” but that doesn’t mean the pagans should be confused for Christians or vice versa.
The problem, by my lights, is that too many people, particularly our friends in talk radio, have made exactly this error. I’ve listened to Rush Limbaugh and Hannity quite a bit over the last few months, and they routinely talk about how the establishment hates or fears both Trump and Cruz. That’s true. But they quite often leave in the air the insinuation that therefore they are ideologically similar. I don’t see it. At all.