As I write, we have reached the stage of the Republican primary cycle that, since at least 1988, requires a pronouncement from the highest levels of the GOP: Now is the time for other candidates to back out and for all Republicans to support the frontrunner.  Continuing the battle for the nomination will serve no purpose other than making it easier for Democrats to win in the fall, which would be a calamity, since the worst Republican presidential contender is better than the best Democrat, particularly since control of the Supreme Court will likely be determined by the next president.  There are many flaws in this argument, but it has helped to keep the great bulk of restive conservatives firmly in the Republican camp and dutifully voting for the likes of George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, George W. Bush, John McCain, and Mitt Romney in the fall, even though many of these restive conservatives had voted for these nominees’ primary opponents earlier in the year.

This year, of course, no pronouncement has been forthcoming, though the likely Democratic nominee is the utterly charmless Hillary Clinton, and a Clinton victory certainly would push the Supreme Court to the left, because Antonin Scalia actually was the type of Supreme Court justice Republican nominees have long promised voters but all too seldom delivered.  That this argument has vanished reveals much about the reality of the GOP since the end of the Cold War.

Both Romney and McCain have denounced the Republican front runner, Donald Trump, and Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan have been only slightly less explicit in their disdain.  National Review has published numerous attacks on Trump; prominent members of the Beltway Right gathered in D.C. to plot against Trump and left open the door to a third-party run against him in the fall; prominent neocon William Kristol has voiced his preference for Clinton over Trump; and less-prominent neocon Max Boot has declared that he would vote for Joseph Stalin rather than Trump.  These attacks are not driven by the fear that Trump will lose in the fall and hand the White House to Hillary.  They are driven by the fear that Trump will win.

The resurgent American nationalism embodied by Trump is an economic threat to the corporate interests that fund the GOP, the Beltway Right, and the neocons.  These interests have profited from the cheap labor delivered by free trade and mass immigration and by the lucrative military contracts needed to fight multiple wars in the Middle East and perhaps a new Cold War with Putin’s Russia.  More fundamentally, these interests have embraced the ideology of globalism, an ideology threatened by any candidate who claims to put the interests of America and Americans ahead of those of the foreigners crossing our borders or working in the foreign factories fueling America’s enormous trade deficits.  A Trump victory would reveal the fundamental irrelevance of the neocons and the Beltway Right, which might cause the globalist tycoons who have kept those now fulminating against Trump cozily ensconced in numerous Beltway think tanks, foundations, and magazines to wonder if their money might be better spent elsewhere.  A Trump victory would encourage future candidates to break with globalism, since it is quite clear that there is a strong political market for candidates willing to question the nostrums of open borders and free trade, a political market that has been hidden until now because the only way candidates have been able to gain the cash needed to compete in the primaries has been to curry favor with the corporate interests that have profited from open borders and free trade.

The many Beltway denunciations of Trump and his supporters show how little the hierarchies of both the GOP and Conservatism, Inc., care about the issues they have used to maintain their hold on restive conservatives, since they would quite clearly rather have Clinton in the White House.  These denunciations also unveil the great disdain for the voters who have dutifully voted for the lesser of two evils for many years.  National Review, for example, has responded to the great support for Trump among working-class whites by running a vicious article by Kevin Williamson, “The Father-Führer,” that implicitly compared Trump to Hitler, decried working-class whites for the “whelping of human children with all the respect and wisdom of a stray dog,” and declared that communities blighted by deindustrialization “deserve to die.”  Similarly, Mona Charen used NR’s website to claim that “Any so-called conservative who is comfortable with Trump is a total disgrace,” a remark presumably encompassing many of the millions of Americans who have already voted for Trump.

The mask is now off the leadership of the GOP and of the Beltway Right.  The question is how real conservatives will respond.