The harder the left goes after someone on the right, the more squishy people on the right desert that person. Instead of circling the wagons and supporting our own, RINOs and moderates leave some of our top shining stars high and dry.
We've seen this pattern for years; it's nothing new. The more successful a conservative leader is, the more likely he or she is to become a target, so this is a real, ongoing problem. Unfortunately, there are a lot of self-righteous people in our party who care more about donations for reelection from powerful special interests than promoting real conservative values, so when they see someone like former President Trump getting beat up in the MSM, they use the ruse that he's "not conservative" to desert him.
Now that Trump is no longer in office, the revisionists are coming out in full force. There is currently a split on the right between those who think Trump defines Republicans now versus those who think he is toxic and must be deserted. The latter derogatorily refers to anything he does and those who approve of him as "Trumpism," as if it's a cancer that must be purged from the party.
One of the most popular accusations is that Trump is a populist, not a conservative. What is the definition of a populist? Someone who cares about the little people, who is concerned about their interests and rights being exploited by a privileged elite. This sounds like merely a tenet of conservatism, not a completely different philosophy. The left and MSM always pretend that Republicans are the party of the wealthy, but that's not true. Republicans are about treating everyone the same and giving everyone the same opportunities, no matter how poor. Regardless, while Trump seemed to care a bit more about the average Joe than the previous two Republican presidents, there wasn't a huge divergence in policy implications.
Another popular criticism is that Trump approved of large spending increases. If this was the criteria for being a conservative, then both George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush weren't conservatives either. And maybe not Ronald Reagan, since he presided over very large budget increases as well. Under Reagan, spending increased by 2.7%, higher than under George H.W. Bush and even Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
A third criticism is that Trump doesn't have a deeply held ideology. Well, if that's true, then why did he come down on the conservative side of issues consistently for four years? These critics would have you ignore his actions and instead listen to them telling you what they claim to know he is thinking. The truth is, Trump pursued a very conservative agenda. All of the main tenets of modern-day conservatism are there in his record as president: Second Amendment, pro-life, religious freedom, individual rights, lower taxes, decreasing regulations, strong military, opposition to authoritarian government, rejection of globalism, etc.
Some quibble that his rejection of globalism was not conservative – but the antithesis of that would to subvert U.S. patriotism for values like the Paris Agreement on climate change, or condone rights-abusing countries on the U.N.'s Human Rights Council that denounce the U.S. Trump has been critical of so-called free trade agreements like NAFTA because they aren't purely free trade – they subvert U.S. sovereignty to foreign interests in ways that must be addressed. He rightly saw that we don't want our environmental, labor and consumer protection laws dictated by authoritarian countries. Ultimately, Trump kept almost all of NAFTA in place, renaming it the USMCA.
Trump's patriotism merely harkens back to the Founding Fathers. But the RINOs attack even that, claiming that it is a form of nationalism, a word they have cleverly pounced upon because it can mean not just patriotism but also fascism or National Socialism. It's nothing more than clever word plays.
Many of those on the right accusing Trump of not being a conservative aren't very conservative themselves. They generally fit into one of two categories: 1) RINOs who caved in to obtain special interest money a long time ago and so want to pretend those positions are the status quo for Republicans, or 2) RINOs who enjoy the fawning attention from the left and MSM for attacking real conservatives. Many of the latter refer to themselves as "intellectual conservatives," and fool people because they write for elitist news sources, some ostensibly on the right.
But the real intellectual conservatives, like the late William F. Buckley Jr., acquired this title because they thoroughly understood conservative principles, wrote about them intelligently and could trounce the left in debates. The snooty wannabe intellectual conservatives point to one derogatory remark Buckley made in 2000 about Trump possibly running for president. Buckley called him a narcissist. But they fail to point out that Trump was not a Republican at the time; he was registered with the Independence Party of New York and had no conservative record at that time, so of course Buckley was going to criticize him. Buckley could easily have said something similar about Reagan before Reagan became a Republican with a political record. If Trump had behaved as a RINO while in office, then there would be no reason to defend him and his critics would be right. But he's had four full years to pursue a conservative agenda, and some believe he got more accomplished in one term than Reagan did in two (outside of foreign policy).
Critics of Trump in this area even try to have it both ways. On the one hand, they say he is too liberal to be a conservative, cherry picking things he's said in the past before he aligned with the right to run for president. On the other hand, they say he's gone too far to the right, such as by demanding that Mexico pay for a border wall. So which is it? You can't have it both ways. It shows the shallowness and desperateness of their criticism.
The reality is, Trump brought a coalition of those on the right together, uniting the party like we haven't seen since the Reagan coalition of the 1980s. He brought in minorities including conservative gays, demographics which had been ignored for years as unattainable. His fans are both blue-collar workers and the wealthy, also not easy to do.
The Republican establishment couldn't stand it because Trump can't be bought; he wasn't dependent on contributions from special interest groups like they are, which exposed them. Let's hope they aren't able to throw away all the accomplishments he's made by replacing him with what they really want – an updated version of John McCain.