Republican leaders are correct to condemn Mr Trump’s proposal. But that’s not enough. Some Republicans are justified in urging Mr Trump to exit the race. But that’s not enough. Far too few Republicans, however, confront the shamefully high two-thirds of Republican primary voters that enable Mr Trump’s demagoguery. Far too few Republicans urge our base to strive to uphold the uniquely Western value of religious pluralism. Far too few Republicans are prepared to do what it takes — including risking losing an election loss if Mr Trump mounts a third party bid — to earn the right to call ourselves the party of Lincoln.
To truly make the GOP and the country great again, conservatives must denounce Mr. Trump, call on him to exit the race, and most importantly, urge our own voters to hold themselves accountable to Western society’s highest ideals, including religious toleration. If this causes a wide swath of Republican voters to support a third party bid, costing the GOP the election, then so be it. A Party that cannot hold itself accountable is unfit to govern the United States of America.
There is precedent for this action. When William Buckley founded the National Review in 1955, he assailed elements of the existing conservative movement, arguing they had no place in the movement. Notably, he attacked anti-semites, the nativists, and many segregationists. The National Review grew to become one of the most successful conservative magazines, and Mr. Buckley is an icon of modern American conservatism. A similar effort is needed today.
I understand why many of Mr. Trump’s supporters are fearful about the future. There are legitimate reasons: the 2008 economic crash battered many Americans, and uneducated citizens were particularly affected. A sluggish recovery, coupled with rising tuition costs and anemic job growth at the lower end of the income ladder, has placed many families’ financial futures in permanent jeopardy. Meanwhile, the President’s insistence on expanding the size of the federal government, from the nearly trillion dollar stimulus to the Affordable Care Act to onerous new environmental regulations, rightfully alarms many conservatives. A feckless foreign policy and terrorist attacks around the globe also haven’t helped. Then there are the illegitimate fears the Republican base holds: we cannot deny their racist and Islamophobic elements.
But this fear is no excuse for bigotry. Those who wish to bar Muslim immigration believe our way of life is under attack, either through overt terrorist acts or through more subtle means. Western culture is worth preserving However, we must also recognize that our way of life has obligations that must be adhered to even when times are tough. Religious toleration, as enshrined by the First Amendment, is one of these obligations. Doubling down on Western civilization does not mean banning Muslim immigrants; it means using the Western idea of free speech to convince our fellow citizens that religious toleration is worth preserving, both on moral and strategic grounds.
In a final irony, many members of the Republican base frequently compare the President to European leaders in the 1930s that appeased fascist dictators. Conservatives claim to recognize evil in the world, and pledge good will triumph if we stop appeasing dangerous ideologies and individuals. We can start within our own ranks.