July 18, 2019

The Culture War Has Eclipsed Politics

“Pundits get things wrong. I certainly do. In February 2014, 16 months before Donald Trump launched his presidential campaign, I declared Jeb Bush the likely GOP nominee for 2016. In the weeks leading up to the November vote that year, I repeatedly predicted a Hillary Clinton victory.

On the positive side of the ledger, I was bullish on Trump’s prospects for winning the Republican nomination long before most mainstream pundits were willing to entertain the possibility. But even in the context of Trump’s successful bid to become the GOP standard-bearer, I badly misinterpreted something that’s turned out to be extraordinarily important: I assumed that Trump’s hostile takeover of the Republican Party signaled the advent of a post-religious right. The culture war was over, the left had won, and the GOP had now moved onto other things — like attacking immigrants, embracing protectionism, and cultivating ethnic nationalism.

This was a foolish misreading of Trumpism — though in my defense, this wasn’t apparent during the primaries, when most intellectual social conservatives were drawn to Marco Rubio and the bulk of rank-and-file evangelicals and Mormons gravitated to Ted Cruz or Ben Carson. As long as the outcome of the primaries remained uncertain, the religious right stayed far away from the real estate mogul from New York City who had donated money to Planned Parenthood and done and said countless things to offend the sensibilities of social conservative voters.”

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