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Why populists now need Donald Trump to get out of the way

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Why populists now need Donald Trump to get out of the way 1

The ignominious events in the nation’s capital on Wednesday, Jan. 6 will not soon be forgotten. The mob assault was the sort of thing we normally associate with banana republics — not what Abraham Lincoln once called the “last, best hope of earth.”

Hypocrisy, of course, abounds. It is more than a little rich for partisan Democrats and their media mouthpieces to only now condemn anarchic mayhem and the wanton destruction of property — following their systematic refusal to do so amid last summer’s harrowing, months-long Antifa/Black Lives Matter rampage across the nation.

As for the “health-professional” charlatans who once argued against restricting the “mostly peaceful” protests in the name of the greater “public-health crisis” of “systemic racism,” they are now nowhere to be found during an actual crisis of national political health, when recent polling suggests nearly 40 percent of Americans doubt the legitimacy of the recent presidential election.

But that hypocrisy, galling and lacking in self-awareness as it may be, still mustn’t obscure the moment’s imperative. And that takes us to President Trump, the Republican Party and the state of American conservatism.

The election of Trump in 2016 was a well-deserved wrecking ball to the cobwebbed pieties of Conservatism Inc. and the dripping disdain with which the GOP’s libertarian-oriented donor class deigned to look at its more populist voting base. Only Trump — the exotic and iconoclastic real-estate magnate who rose to prominence wholly outside Conservatism Inc.’s formative institutions — was able to break through the staleness and more authentically stand with Republican voters on issues such as immigration, trade and foreign policy.

But while the Trump phenomenon was a salutary earthquake, forcing conservatives to retire their bromides and reconsider the difference between timeless principles and prudential policies, the 45th president largely failed to leave a constructive, substantive, forward-looking conservative agenda in his wake.

This is hardly Trump’s fault; far too many administration officials and GOP poohbahs remained wedded to the dead consensus, and in any event, it is hardly incumbent upon a commander in chief to play the role of policy wonk.

Fortunately, there now exists a sprawling network of intellectual and media institutions dedicated to fleshing out this “new-right” agenda — one that is more prudential and less wedded to abstract dogmatism; more overtly communitarian and protective of religion; and more focused on national health and the common good over the excessive economic and cultural deregulation that are hallmarks of post-World War II neoliberalism.

I am a part of this movement. And in light of the past week, especially the loss of two eminently winnable Senate races in Georgia and the shameful manner in which Trump conducted himself during Wednesday’s seditious Capitol storming, it is imperative for our nascent movement’s prospects that Trump go away after Jan. 20.

He is highly unlikely to do so, of course. The flip side of Trump’s ­indifference toward established norms, which helped make him the perfect political disrupter, is his gigantic ego and compulsive need to be the center of attention at all times.

But that ego, once confined to his Twitter account, has now come at a real cost. This peculiar election featured myriad irregularities and was blighted by the proliferation of inherently destabilizing mail-in balloting, but it is highly unlikely that there was enough fraud to alter the Electoral College margin. The president’s insistence to the contrary over the past two months undoubtedly helped sink Georgia Republicans, disastrously handing over the Senate to Democrats.

And his deeply irresponsible decision to inflame rally-goers on Wednesday may have provided rhetorical cover for Capitol trespassers. The fact this was done under a “Make America Great Again” veneer could well poison new-right/common-good conservatism. Can populists now evangelize and build out something meaningful and substantive?

Donald Trump the wrecking ball was much-needed — and tremendously successful. But it is time for conservatives, who will spend the next four years in exile, to cultivate a constructive governing agenda out of this now-toxic rubble. It is no small irony that our imperative to do so demands that Trump now get out of the way and let us finish his work.

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