Real Conservatives Versus The MAGA Party

Vocabulary matters. Precision in language allows us to conduct public debates productively; when labels are misused– thrown about without accuracy–arguments about public policy and leadership go astray. Calling today’ s Republican Party “conservative” is more than a harmless misnomer; it is a slur on genuine conservatism, deeply unfair to principled conservatives and encouraging of irrelevant argumentation.

Here in Indiana, we need to call out candidates like Braun and Banks who dishonestly label themselves “conservative” when they are anything but. They are actually radical MAGA populist authoritarians–the antithesis of genuine conservatism. 

Peter Wehner is a genuine conservative; he served in the Republican administrations of Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush, and was executive director for policy for Empower America, a conservative group formed by William Bennett, Jack Kemp, and Jeane Kirkpatrick.

These days, Wehner is a contributing columnist to the New York Times, and in a recent column, he made a number of points that distinguish genuine conservatives from MAGA cultists like Braun and Banks.

The Republican Party has grown more radical, unhinged and cultlike every year since Mr. Trump took control of it. In 2016, there was outrage among Republicans after the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape. On the tape, in words that shocked the nation, Mr. Trump said that when you’re a star, “You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”

In 2023, Mr. Trump was found liable for sexual abuse. His “locker room talk” turned out to be more than just talk. Yet no Republican of significance said a critical word about it.

The same was true earlier this year when Mr. Trump was found liable for civil fraud. The judge in the case, Arthur F. Engoron, said that the former president’s “complete lack of contrition” bordered on “pathological.” Yet Republicans were united in their outrage, not in response to Mr. Trump’s actions but at the judge for the size of the penalty.

Wehner pointed out that today’s Republicans excuse the January 6th attack on the Capitol and actually glorify the insurrectionists.
At his kickoff campaign rally for 2024, a song called “Justice for All” played, featuring Mr. Trump and the J6 Prison Choir, made up of prisoners charged with crimes related to the riot. Republicans are not only convinced that Mr. Trump was unfairly impeached and unfairly indicted; they are also completely untroubled by his threats against (and slander of) judges, law clerks and prosecutors, not to mention his attempts to influence and intimidate witnesses.
They are fine with the former president referring to “the radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country” and insinuating that the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley, deserved to be executed for committing treason. They are fine with Mr. Trump encouraging Russia to attack our NATO allies and comparing himself with Alexei Navalny, the Kremlin’s fiercest and bravest critic, who died while serving time in a remote Russian prison for his political beliefs. They are fine with him suggesting “termination” of the Constitution and with one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers arguing that if as president, Mr. Trump ordered SEAL Team Six to assassinate an opponent, he could be immune from criminal prosecution.
Wehner points out that the pre-Trump GOP would have overwhelmingly supported the recent aid package for Ukraine that twenty-six Republican senators voted against, and he offers several other examples supporting his contention that the MAGA takeover of what used to be a political party is now complete.
Whatever one thought of the Republican Party pre-Trump, it was not fundamentally illiberal or nihilistic; its leaders were not sociopathic, merciless con men, wantonly cruel and lawless. No area of Mr. Trump’s life appears to have been untouched by moral corruption.
I was a Republican for 35 years, and although I was never a conservative of the Peter Wehner variety, his conservatism is based upon a coherent, defensible philosophy of governance–and I agree with his assertion (and that of other principled conservatives) that the GOP is no longer a conservative party. To the contrary.

[Today’s GOP} instincts are nativist, protectionist and isolationist. But the most significant fusion is ethical and moral. The Republican Party keeps getting darker. It has become anti-intellectual, conspiracy-minded and authoritarian, intemperate and brutish, transgressive and anarchistic. And there’s no end in sight.

Mr. Trump is a human blowtorch, prepared to burn down democracy. So is his party.

Whatever today’s GOP is, it’s not remotely conservative.


  1. On X (formerly Twitter), they all post the exact words to their constituents as if someone is coordinating them from behind the scenes. And if they are attaching a reference, it’s always one of the GOP appearing on Fox News. They love Fox because they never get challenged. On X, they get challenged all the time.

    Mike Pence said he won’t endorse or vote for Trump. Based on the comments in his posts, most MAGAs can’t stand Mikey. I wonder if anybody likes him nowadays.

    I agree that conservative has lost its meaning. The GOP puts on a conservative cap when the Democrats propose legislation they don’t like. The “We cannot afford it” comments are posted in unison. Nobody is buying it except the Fox News drones when they’re not listening/watching conspiracy-minded YouTube videos/podcasts. Talk about unhinged!

  2. We are in trouble deep. The disinformation from foreign and domestic sources has worked brilliantly as we have so many among us who cling to their doltishness. They’ll believe anything and anybody who feeds their self-aggrieved operating philosophy – if one can call it that.

    I’ve seen little film clips where “man on the street” says we need a dictator to run our country. I wonder what they’ll think when Stephen Miller’s neo-Gestapo agents come calling. They won’t realize until it’s too late that autocracy means the utter loss of freedom to the point where when those goobers open their mouths to complain about anything, they will be knocked shut.

    This collection of autocrats – what used to be the GOP – are not “of the people” as even the Nazis of Germany were. These bastards are totally transactional and want every dime they can get for their dear leader. That’s it.

    Imagine being one of our traditional allies seeing this as the Russian tanks come rolling into town or Israel is allowed to be nuked by Iranian missiles. No response from the government of the Son of Putin…

    For those of us with more that a half-dozen brain cells still working, that is a prospect that only the dumbest will want. Maybe we are devolving. Maybe we’ve reached the population limit where stupidity become supreme. Today’s GOP seems to be re-defining what humanity is… or maybe defining it to us for the first time.

  3. Agree that the GOP is no longer a conservative political party.

    I would be interested in you writing about another perspective of the GOP. If you review how many respectable sources (Anti-Defamation League, Southern Poverty Law Center, Wikipedia. . . ) define hate groups, is the GOP a hate group?

  4. All true. And yet, too many “principled conservatives” continue to call themselves Republicans and continue to vote the party line. The defeat of MAGA extremists should be crushing landslides; decisive even in “conservative” states, and especially in the primaries, where control of the party could have been taken back. But they aren’t, at least so far. Democratic turnout in November will be everything.

  5. Sheila, I’m a liberal and couldn’t agree more with your comments. It’s the primary reason why I’ve advocated for destruction of the Republican Party and creation of a new party in the US which represents conservative principles, including the rule of law and preservation of democracy.

  6. Treatment for addiction shows us that an addict must hit bottom before he or she decides to get help. It seems as if there might be two ways for the MAGATS to hit bottom. One would be to win the coming election and watch as, first their enemies are rounded up, then their neighbors are rounded up, and finally they are rounded up. The only other way is that they are subjected to the worst landslide in American history. I don’t think the later will happen. “Buckle up! It’s going to be a bumpy ride.”

  7. As Stevie Wonder sang, “if you believe in things that you don’t understand, then you suffer”. How prescient!

  8. The term “conservative” is now used as cover by the Magas in order to get the vote of old Republicans. They are using the “R” when they are anything but a political party intent on governing and are instead interested only in the acquisition and use of power. As I have been writing for a couple of years, that party has been taken over by fascists and has no independent existence, having gone the way of the Whig Party from which it arose in 1854.

    Sheila’s recitation of Trump’s immoral record is immaterial to those who are power mad, a group ranging from “evangelical Christians” to their leader’s demand for immunity from prosecution for murder of “political opponents,” and guess who gets to define “political opponents?” We are promised concentration camps for “migrants,” but guess who gets to define “migrants?” Even Hitler was not so audacious when first initiating chaos as a pretext for seizure of power!

    It is hard to believe that millions of Americans are poised to vote for a candidate for president who has openly outlined his plan out front to be a murdering dictator, to “suspend” the Constitution, to have engineered a coup and promised pardons to those in prison for having participated in it, etc. etc. etc., but here we are.

    To do: Reject such a rejection of our democracy via our vote and the vote of Aunt Mary and Uncle Harold and anyone else we can bring to the polls this fall, otherwise it may be our last such opportunity to freely register our views.

  9. People keep pointing the finger at Trump, as though he is the absolute cause of this rapid degeneration.

    I disagree.

    For me, the trigger for the acceleration (of the already present but slow degeneration) was the election of Barack Obama in 2008. The racists were triggered. The deeply racist tea party movement began. Trump helped begin the “birther” movement. The anti-democratic “red map” plan was quickly conceived and executed to near-perfection in 2010. Radical people began to be elected on the GOP side, largely driven by a base of bigoted resentment.

    Trump gained especial notoriety within that base because of the “birther” insanity. But he is not the cause; just a symptom of the racist Obama backlash. Once he won the GOP primary for 2016, though, then the GOP was done. The base was now in control. And make no mistake, the base controls Trump, not the other way around. He spends his time trying to figure out how to feed them and use them, just as any psychopath tries to figure out how to use others for their own benefit.

    The GOP was already ill before 2008; it had a compromised immune system. But then the GOP was infected with a deadly virus in 2008 and died in 2016, and it is not coming back.

    So why do people point at Trump? I argue it’s the same issue that I have with the “old guard” of the Democrats–Schumer, Pelosi, Clinton, etc. They do and believe things I absolutely agree with. See Schumer’s comments on Netanyahu recently. The comments are too late, and inadequate, but they show he generally thinks rightly about this. But his “plan” wouldn’t address the issue, even if it got Netanyahu out. The problem is that he is strongly biased by out-of-touch notions based on his history and experience. It’s just like when Pelosi insisted that “a strong Republican party” was necessary. She’s unable to comprehend that it is gone, and that any efforts in this direction are not only pointless but actively counter-productive, including her action of simply _making the statement_.

    The point is that Wehner, the Lincoln Project, and other anti-Trumpers, (i.e. good, old-fashioned conservatives) are just like the Democratic old guard. Their own biases blind them to the depth of the danger of the current Republican “party,” so much so that they’ve determined to see Trump as _the_ catalyst, rather than _a_ catalyst in a larger downfall.

    Until these people can truly reckon with the larger context, the actual path that’s been taken by the GOP, they will not be able to help fix it, and may even just make things worse.

  10. Todd S,
    Did you see in print that good ol’ Mickey wont vote for trump. As Our former governor, I wont beleive it until it is print. And then I might be a little bit skeptical. Has Mickey grown a set since last I heard?? He won’t endorse trump, but is that as far as he will go?

  11. IMHO, Trump, whom has been a sick puppy since forever, saw the opportunity to
    grab the bigots, and give them a hero. Having been ripe for picking, they easily bought into the garbage he was putting out.

  12. “The Republican Party has grown more radical, unhinged and cultlike every year since Mr. Trump took control of it.”

    The mystery to me is a level of denial that is powerful enough to obscure this observation. It seems undeniable to me.

    I’ve always wanted to understand Hitler intoxication in Germany or Mussolini in Italy but all I claim now is I have observed it here. I still don’t understand it.

  13. Pete. I’m not sure it is even possible to understand something that is irrational.

Comments are closed.