For years, conservatives have told themselves the pretty bedtime story that they represent a silent majority in America -- that most Americans want smaller government, individual rights and personal responsibility. We've suggested that if only we nominated precisely the right guy who says the right words -- some illegally grown Ronald Reagan clone, perhaps -- we'd win.
Donald Trump's impending nomination puts all of that to bed.
There can be no doubt: The Republican Party has successful killed the legacy of Ronald Reagan. By consistently moving to the left in every presidential election, by granting the left its general premise that government is generally a tool for good rather than a risky potential instrument of tyranny and by teaching Americans that the problem isn't government itself, but who runs it, Republicans have ensured that the vast majority of Americans no longer hold to conservative principles.
In fact, a significant swath of Republicans themselves don't believe in conservative principles. Trump, obviously, is no conservative. He's a protectionist on trade -- a position that smacks of populist pandering rather than informed conservative economics. He believes in an authoritarian executive branch designed to make deals that achieve a win for Americans, rather than a heavily circumscribed executive branch with prescribed powers of enforcement. He believes that judges sign bills, that legislators exist merely to bargain with the great man in charge and that the military exists to serve as his personal armed forces.
All of this attracts people.
The angrier Trump gets, the more he talks about how he's going to set things right rather than giving Americans the power to do so themselves, and the more Americans flock to him.
So, let's look at the facts. Today, at low ebb, Trump garners approximately 4 in 10 Republican voters. Let's assume that at least half of those Americans aren't conservative -- a fair guess, given that many have admitted bias in polls in favor of government interventionism in the economy, a sneaking love for government entitlement programs and a strong position against immigration -- not for safety reasons, but to prevent economic competition. Meanwhile, more than 4 in 10 Americans support Democrats outright.
This means that at least 6 in 10 Americans support a big government vision of the world.
Which means conservatives have failed.
In order to rebuild, conservatives must recognize that they think individually; leftists think institutionally. While the left took over the universities -- now bastions of pantywaist fascism hell-bent on destroying free speech -- the right slept. While the left took over the public education system wholesale, the right fled to private schools and homeschooling. While the left utilized popular culture as a weapon, conservatives supposedly withdrew and turned off their televisions.
Withdrawal, it turns out, wasn't the best option.
Fighting back on all fronts is. Republicans need to worry less about the next election and significantly more about building a movement of informed Americans who actually understand American values. That movement must start with outreach to parents, and it must extend to the takeover of local institutions or defunding of government institutions outright. The left has bred a generation of Americans who do not recognize the American ideals of the Founding Fathers. Pretending otherwise means flailing uselessly as demagogues like Trump become faux-conservative standard-bearers.