As Ross Douthat pointed out in a fiery blog post yesterday, the Journal’s editorial board has not responded well to the idea that Speaker Paul Ryan ought to challenge Donald Trump more forcefully. Douthat has described Ryan’s approach as “first, change nothing; second, do nothing,” but this is exactly how the editorial board would prefer it, despite the fact that Trump, a populist with no loyalty to elite Republican orthodoxy on trade and other matters, has made the Journal’s editorial board increasingly irrelevant and powerless within its own party. It appears the editorial board is willing to accommodate Trump as long as conservative economic ideology can remain pure, or as Douthat memorably put it:
[W]hat does it say about the Journal’s editorial page, allegedly a bastion of liberty and cosmopolitan conservatism, that it wants the heir of Kemp and Reagan to keep his options open and his hands undirtied with #neverTrumpism, just in case he might get the chance to help an illiberal race-baiting violence-abetting war crimes-endorsing demagogue pass, I dunno, the biggest supply-side tax cut in the history of the Laffer Curve?
The Trump campaign has shown what a rickety contraption the GOP coalition is. The connection between the party’s intellectual organs (which advance the causes of the wealthy) and its base (which is motivated by social grievances) is tissue-thin, and Trump stands to sever it. The Journal believes that a figure like Ryan can keep the relationship intact, even with Trump as a figurehead. But it doesn’t seem to realize that the danger Trump poses is to deprive the Journal and other paragons of supply-side economics of any kind of meaningful voter base. Faced with an existential threat, the Journal, instead of taking a hard look in the mirror, is calling for appeasement. Sad!