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Paul Kengor: Moving the movement beyond Trump

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Republican senators gather around President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence Jan. 9, 2019.

A Never Trump colleague asks why I didn’t support a second impeachment of Donald Trump, given that I say that I want the conservative movement to move beyond Trump. The answer isn’t difficult.

For starters, the impeachment trial from the outset was a political spectacle, a rash judgment by Democrats. First, there was the debatable question of whether a non-sitting president can be impeached. Moreover, there were crucial questions not only of whether Trump instigated what happened on Jan. 6 but how House Democrats could immediately rush to an impeachment vote before an investigation had even been done on whether what happened was pre-planned well in advance (as everyone from the likes of CNN, MSNBC, NPR, The Washington Post and the FBI have reported), or whether those assaulting the building started before Trump even finished his speech (The Washington Post and The New York Times printed timelines before Democrats evidently thought of one). There’s also the crucial question of why tens of thousands present at the Trump speech were not instigated vs. a few hundred who allegedly were.

In sum, this was a snap House vote without an investigation, without witnesses (not even in the Senate trial) and without due process against the person charged. A political rush job and hack job by Democrats. The country needs to move on. You want unity, then pursue unity.

Of course, the deeper motivation by Democrats and certain anti-Trump Republicans was to use a second impeachment as a tool to disqualify Trump from running again. That’s what perplexed my colleague about my position: If I genuinely would like to see the conservative movement move beyond Donald Trump, why not support a move to disqualify him from running again? The answer is that the ends don’t justify the means — that is, a partisan exploitation of the impeachment process.

But as to the matter of the conservative movement moving beyond Trump, that’s something I’ve longed for since 2015, regardless of whether I concede that Trump as president did things that conservatives should applaud, from being a surprising defender of religious liberty and the pro-life position, to fracking and energy independence and deregulation, to making solid court picks, and more. Still, I saw from the outset, especially as a college professor, Trump’s deleterious effect on young conservatives in particular. Of course, not all were repelled by him — entire conservative youth groups like Turning Point USA became pro-Trump organizations. Overall, however, many young conservatives dropped out. They found nothing attractive about Trump.

Importantly, this is completely different from what happened in the 1980s, when droves of youth were attracted to conservativism because of the inspiring person and winsome message of Ronald Reagan. The likes of an “Alex P. Keaton” (played by Michael J. Fox) on “Family Ties” reflected a common kind of young conservative. I was one of them. As the conservative editorial page editor of The Pitt News in the late 1980s, I had a bunch of fellow writers who had been attracted to the movement.

I can speak to this keenly right now as I’m writing the history of The American Spectator, which in the 1980s thrived among young conservatives. In the early 1980s, the notables who started their careers at Spectator were as diverse as bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell, prominent Never Trumpers John Podhoretz and Bill Kristol and George Will, and academic Mark Lilla, a Harvard Ph.D. and faculty member at Columbia University, who today writes for The New York Times and New York Review of Books, and has penned thoughtful works critiquing liberalism.

It was cool to be a conservative then. It was intellectually stimulating. It was fun.

“I was a conservative back then — in the 1980s — because being a conservative was the most intellectually exciting option out there,” Gladwell told me. “It was where all the free thinking and the innovation was. The American Spectator was a key part of that. I think it attracted lots of young talent because it gave us all a chance to thumb our nose at the establishment.”

What I’m urging is to move the conservative movement beyond Donald Trump, with messengers like Marco Rubio, Nikki Haley, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Kristi Noem, Dan Crenshaw and so many others (I could list pundits at length). This is a major moment of opportunity for a movement to regain its strength. Conservatism is about an enduring order that, well, endures. It transcends. It now must transcend Donald Trump.

But until then, you don’t pursue a political spectacle of an impeachment trial — intended to disqualify Trump from office — simply for the purpose of getting there.

Paul Kengor is a professor of political science and chief academic fellow of the Institute for Faith & Freedom at Grove City College.

Categories: Opinion | Paul Kengor Columns

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