I have been operating under the assumption that Trump's candidacy was a sideshow. I thought he might grab some attention early, but that no one would take him seriously once the campaign really got underway.
This assumption has been gradually undermined in the last six months. Whereas I thought Trump would fade away, he has instead attracted increasingly serious attention, not only from anti-Establishment types but even from mainstream Republican politicians on a national level.
This concerns me. Trump as a candidate would be terrible for the Republican party, and Trump as a president would be terrible for the nation. I have two main problems with him. One is the obvious one that he is not a serious person. His mind operates at a superficial level on (apparently) just about everything, but especially on politics. He isn't a professional politician, of course, so he has not thought about these things to the same extent that career politicians have, but that's not the primary reason. Carly Fiorina is another business leader with only a slight advantage in political experience, yet she understands issues at a fundamental level and is able to communicate her views so anyone can understand them. Trump cannot, and I have the feeling that, even if he had been in politics for his whole life, his depth of understanding wouldn't improve much.
The other problem I have is that Trump is not a conservative. He isn't a liberal, either, because he has no consistent political philosophy. What he has is a collection of opinions on isolated issues with no obvious connections between them. Since they derive from no underlying philosophy, his views are subject to change on the spur of the moment, as they have been known to do. Flexibility is a virtue, but only if it follows some consistent guidelines. Owning a bag of opinions, some of which happen to correspond at the moment with some of my own, is not a reason to vote for someone.
I understand that a lot of Trump's support is driven by dissatisfaction with the Republican party and its record of disappointing conservatives. Believe me, I get it. No one has been more disappointed in the Republican party than I have. It has been disappointing me for 35 years now, and I grow more impatient over time. That is why I think the Tea Party is the best thing to happen to American politics in my lifetime, and why I support candidates who offer an alternative to the traditional way of conducting business in Washington, in particular the traditional way that Republicans have of giving in to liberal initiatives, or of countering them by offering the same proposals to a lesser degree.
I am all for anti-establishment candidates. I believe in a citizen legislature, not a legislature of people who make a career of running the country and who lose track of what it is like to live with the rules that they pass. I am less convinced that the presidency is a good position for people without experience in politics. Being leader of the free world carries a great burden, not only for one's political actions, but for the way one behaves. If we were, say, Costa Rica, or even Mexico, we could afford an inexperienced person running the government. Having a person with no background in politics in charge of the world's largest nuclear arsenal and most powerful armed forces is another matter. Every small action will be watched by leaders all of the world, and decisions will be made on the basis of inferences and interpretations, extrapolations of how one's behaviour today implies one's behaviour in two or three years. It makes me uncomfortable to think that someone who hasn't had to consider this aspect of politics might be at the helm. On the other hand, I am not immovably opposed to the idea of a political novice as president. I would prefer someone with experience, but I would prefer someone who is going to do the right thing even if he doesn't have experience.
Trump is not someone that I am confident will do the right thing. He's not someone I even vaguely expect will do the right thing. Like Schwarzenegger, I think it is as likely that he will take a sharp left turn once in office as that he will promote anything like conservatism. I think he will make conservatives ask themselves "What was I thinking when I voted for him?" the same way libertarians have had to ask that question about their support for Barack Obama. I think his election as a Republican would be a cataclysmic event for the party, and might result in the formation of a new party just to have some official vehicle to oppose him. It might actually be good in that respect, but I'm afraid he could do too much damage in the meantime to hope for it.
I think it is entirely appropriate that National Review should devote an issue to opposing Trump. I can understand how people who support Trump would not be happy with it, but I find it odd, and irritating, that even Trump's opponents would consider it merely part of NR's "long tradition of carrying out ideological purges in the service of attempting to define what conservatism means." Ideological purges were a real feature of the Communist Party, where they had a real meaning, because the Communist Party was an organization. Denying that someone who claims to share one's beliefs really does so, on the other hand, is called "argument" and "debate" and is how political conflicts are carried out. There's nothing weird about NR saying that Trump is not a conservative, any more than there was back in the 1980's when they said (correctly) that Lowell Weicker was not a conservative. Sometimes people are in the Republican party who aren't conservatives, and it is worth pointing that out, especially if many conservatives are confused on the issue. It is even more worth pointing it out if the person is Donald Trump, someone who is likely to cause serious damage to the Republican party and the conservative movement if he gets elected president.