Ever since M. Emmett Tyrrell wrote “The Coming Conservative Crack-up” in The American Spectator back in 1987 (he wrote a book with the same title five years later), the idea that the modern conservative movement that was incubated in the pages of the National Review and John Birch Society pamphlets and hatched in the embers of the epic flame-out of the Goldwater campaign was in crisis has been in circulation.
Tyrrell had written an earlier book cleverly called “The Liberal Crack-up,” in which he concluded that the left had achieved all it could have reasonably achieved by the 1970s and had turned to dilletantish radicalism obsessed with silly cultural irrelevancies like feminism. But he was no less concerned for his own tribe, which he saw in the tumult of the Iran-Contra scandal as being dangerously parochial and self-serving, unable to “insulate their President against dissolving into sentimental appeasement against his Iranian foes.” That was nearly 30 years ago, and one observer or another has been crying wolf about this impending crack-up on a regular basis ever since then (often preceded by a fundraising ask to fend it off.) This time, however, it’s for real.
If you doubt that, all you have to do is watch any cable news network since the realization hit that Donald Trump is going to be the 2016 nominee. What you’ll find is that the party is completely disoriented, with some people taking strong positions for and against, while others are clearly weighing whether their own careers are better served by going with the flow. Newspaper pundits are analyzing what went wrong and trying to provide guidance for conservatives who have devoted themselves to the cause for decades as they watch their party implode, while others analyze the potential upside to a Trump victory for the cause. Comedians and cartoonists are having a field day.