Conservatism in the age of Trump
Q&A | Radio host Steve Deace ponders the role of evangelicals in the new Republican Party
by Warren Cole Smith
Posted 3/11/16, 02:50 pm
Some of Donald Trump’s strongest opponents are conservatives who insist Trump is not one of them. They worry the political climate is freezing out social conservatives in favor of libertarians in the conservative movement. Conservative radio host Steve Deace of Iowa is one of them. I talked with him about the state of conservatism in the United States at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington last week.
You and I were chatting earlier here at CPAC, and you asked, “Are there any folks like us here anymore?” You meant social conservatives, evangelical Christians. I started coming here just a few years ago when the whole debate with the Log Cabin Republicans and the like began. It’s still a great event, but it seems like the crowd has changed. [There are more] younger libertarians, people that are networking for a chance to work within the party system, looking for a career in politics. What I don’t see as much anymore are a lot of the movement people, especially the social conservative movement people.
Does that, in part, explain the Trump phenomenon? I think the Trump phenomenon is a partial symptom of it. I think the No. 1 thing that the Trump phenomenon is a symptom of is, people have just become so fed up with anything conventional. I think you’re watching the culture change. We’re struggling with how to react to it: When to retreat; when to engage. … This event is symbolic of that in that you’re watching more and more social conservatives saying, we’re not welcome here. I think the question then becomes for us, when do you flee? When do you run for the hills?
A couple of years ago at CPAC, another well-known conservative, Eric Metaxas, who works with me at the Colson Center, said, “If Donald Trump is a conservative, I don’t think I am.” Do you think that statement was prophetic? Eric was prophetic. Let me tell you about a conversation I had last night at dinner. A young man comes up to me, and he wants to debate me on Donald Trump and why I don’t support him. The first question I asked him, I said, “Show me anything about Donald Trump, at all, that shows he’s credibly conservative about anything.” This gentleman said, “I can’t.” I said, “Then why are you supporting him?” He said to me, “Ideology doesn’t matter anymore.”
If ideology doesn’t matter anymore, then we as Christians have to seriously consider the cost of partisan politics. It caused a lot of division, a lot of enmity. It immediately turns a lot of people off to the larger message of the gospel that we want to communicate.
If we’re not doing this to advance ideology, then really what is the point? Really, what we’re talking about is dueling factions of tribes, dueling cults of personality. That is not a place where a Christian is going to thrive.
You have supported Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, since before he won the Iowa caucuses. Last summer, I got wooed by the Trump people and Donald Trump just like so many other conservatives and evangelical people did. In the end … even though [my wife and I] agreed we needed something different than what the establishment offered, we thought he put us as believers in a position where we’d have to defend the indefensible. Boy oh boy, has that proven to be prophetic with the way this campaign has unfolded. One thing you learn if you’ve been in one campaign or a hundred: Nobody ends a campaign more principled than they started. Campaigns do not build character; they reveal it. You’re seeing that especially in the case of Donald Trump.
What do you think is going to happen? How’s this going to play out? I don’t believe Trump will be the nominee. I don’t think he can get the 1,237 delegates. If he doesn’t have 1,237 in the broad daylight—if there’s one thing I know about the Republican Party, Warren, there is no way that Donald Trump is walking out of any kind of a convention as the nominee. He has to win the nomination outright, and I don’t believe he will get there.
Even if I’m right, the long-term damage is something I’m concerned about. I’ll say this: There have been nights I’ve woke up in the middle of the night and my heart has been sick. My soul, I’ve been grieved to watch how too many believers have been willing to define down what they believe in order to support a person. It was wrong when people did it for Obama. It’s wrong when people do it for Trump.
The greatness of our system is that the people are empowered to make their leaders rise to the occasion, rise to them, not dumb-down their belief system for the politician. That’s really what cults do. I’ll say this, the worst cult surrounding a politician I’ve seen in my life is Trump. It’s even worse than 2008 with Obama.
Listen to Warren Smith’s interview with Steve Deace on The World and Everything in It.