For weeks I’ve been watching a parade of Republican officials describe how they worked inside a Republican administration under Donald Trump as the GOP fell to a bunch of kooks, opportunists, racists, and aspiring fascists. I do not know how many of them still think of themselves as Republicans, and I don’t care. I’m sure, however, that many of them—like the mendacious and oily William Barr—would still describe themselves as conservatives.
Such “I would still vote for the conservative” paternosters are required among the right wing in Washington. For the rest of us, who do not think of ourselves as “liberals” and who are not members of the Democratic Party, we have to try a little harder to think through our own political identity as voters and citizens. What does it even mean to be a conservative in the Trump era?
I’m not alone, of course, in wondering about this. I have a bookshelf in my home office where I have gathered the second thoughts of a lot of conservative authors who have broken with the GOP, including Charlie Sykes, Max Boot, Stuart Stevens, Jack Pitney, and Rick Wilson, among others. I’ve been thinking about it again while plowing through new books by people like Tim Miller and my Atlantic colleague Mark Leibovich.