By Kevin D. Williamson
If you travel in conservative circles, you will have recently encountered a perverse kind of populism, one that bewails the influence of social and economic "elites" and finds the antidote for such elitism in the person of ... a billionaire Manhattan real-estate heir.
Not Paris Hilton. The other one.
Having worked for some years as the editor of the Main Line Times, I developed a deep appreciation for that most hated representative of the "establishment" and the "elite." I mean, of course, the country-club Republican.
Donald Trump may have some traction in Cameron County, but in the parts of Pennsylvania where the people are - and, especially, where the country-club Republicans are - he's struggling. Not too long ago, Pennsylvania seemed like it might be in play. As of Monday morning, Hillary Clinton's lead in Pennsylvania was larger than Trump's in Texas.
It is not that the prospect of a President Clinton is to be welcomed - the Clintons are the penicillin-resistant gonorrhea of American politics - but a full, robust, thorough, and merciless rejection of Trump by Republicans would go some way toward helping that beleaguered party to recover from Trump, who has used the GOP the way Bill Clinton used interns: for convenient personal gratification, no strings attached.
Pennsylvania, if it had any appreciation for its own special virtues, could lead the way.
But it probably won't.
The Pennsylvania GOP is one of the most dysfunctional of the state parties, and its dysfunction is characteristic of the moral and intellectual defects that led to the GOP falling for a con artist like Trump in the first place. Pennsylvania Republicans are so gobsmacked by proximity to political power that they consented to be politically dominated for years by Arlen Specter, who mocked and abused them before finally going over to the other side when it suited him.
Trump, a sometimes-Democrat/sometimes-Republican (sometimes Reform party!) opportunist with a large pile of money, combines the worst of that legacy. Republicans and so-called conservatives who are vulnerable to seduction by wealth and celebrity have been pulled in by that. But not the hated country-club Republicans.
One of my favorite Main Line stories concerned a billionaire sports entrepreneur who was rejected for membership in the Merion Cricket Club. "Rich and famous, yes," one old lion put it. "But the wrong kind of rich - and we don't like famous at all." That's not snobbery, exactly: Snob denotes a person of modest origins who overcompensates by being supercilious about manners and taste. Thacher Longstreth couldn't have been a snob any more than William F. Buckley Jr. or George Plimpton could have. It just wasn't in him. What they had was a sense of propriety and proportion - having no real motive for personal status-seeking, they were free to use genuine judgment.
Culture-war Republicans could learn a little bit from the old country-club set: an aversion to flashiness, and an understanding of the place and uses of wealth, as well as sobriety, moderation, compromise, the gift for open collaboration, an understanding of genuine local variation, and a real sense of duty to particular people, particular communities, and particular institutions.
Pennsylvania's elected Republicans, gutless bunch that they are, are on the fence about whether to turn their backs corporately on Trump or try to brazen it out until November in the hopes of avoiding too much criticism from the cable-news charlatans and doggie-vitamin peddlers on talk radio. They should take a side, and the side they should take is the one where the GOP is not represented by a demented game-show host.
The old cartoon of the country-club Republican was a golfer (you know, like Dwight Eisenhower) who turned his nose up at arrivistes sniffing: "They're not our kind of people." Trump is a reminder that sometimes that was exactly the right thing to do.