“The Flight 93 Election” argued that conservatives faced a dilemma similar to the passengers on the hijacked September 11, 2001 jetliner: Either accept a disastrous status quo—a Democrat‐controlled White House—or fight back in the hope of avoiding that fate. The essay, whose author was revealed to be a Republican speechwriter named Michael Anton, conceded that Trump might wind up being a bad president, but Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton was a threat to the nation’s very existence, and so it would be better to risk putting him in the Oval Office. Anton added that anyone who thought otherwise was either corrupted by “pecuniary interests” or else, deep‐down, believed that conservatism is “wrong philosophically, wrong on human nature, wrong on the nature of politics, and wrong on its policy prescriptions.”
Clinton as president was certainly undesirable, given both her own ethics problems and her intention to continue Barack Obama’s flawed agenda. Her presidency (like Obama’s) would have generated plenty of bad policy ideas, executive and federal power grabs, and political appointments that congressional Republicans would have had to weaken and block while she was in office and reverse once she left.
However, with Trump in the Oval Office, congressional Republicans have meekly and sycophantically approved his bad policy ideas, executive and federal power grabs, and political appointments, even though they were well‐positioned to guide his presidency and check his behavior. Now, an American electorate exhausted by his erratic leadership (to put it charitably) is giving the president terrible disapproval ratings and ugly early polling numbers. Those portend that the Democratic Party—which has become far more radical than it was under Hillary Clinton—will capture the White House and Congress in 2020 and be positioned to appoint three Supreme Court justices who will shape the court for a generation. Meanwhile, the Trump‐stained Republican Party is at risk of becoming enduringly irrelevant on the national level.
It’s tempting to conclude pithily that Anton simply botched his metaphor. Instead of Flight 93, a Hillary Clinton win would have been like Flight 4013, the Southwest Airlines jet that landed at the wrong airport in 2014. Conservatives’ political ambitions would have been delayed, but they likely would have reached their desired destination in subsequent elections, propelled by voter backlash to a Clinton presidency. Instead, in 2020 the Democratic Party will get to campaign against a bigoted, incompetent, immoral, and unhinged President Trump; a corrupt, disorganized, and inept Trump administration; a bigger, more interventionist, and more indebted Trump government; and a weak and divided Trump America that is a laughingstock to foreign friends and foes alike. And the Democrats will repeat that highly potent campaign message in 2022, 2024, 2026, and beyond.
But concluding that Anton botched his metaphor is to misread (or not read) his essay. The Trump presidency is by‐and‐large what Anton wanted: a presidency that rejects not just Clinton’s and Obama’s policies, but also Barry Goldwater’s and Ronald Reagan’s philosophy of smaller and limited government, greater political and economic freedom at home and abroad, individualism, and private ordering. That philosophy, which more or less was Washington consensus in the last decades of the 20th century (Democratic Party rhetoric notwithstanding), held that entrepreneurialism should be rewarded, personal responsibility demanded, individual choice respected, market competition expanded, and government intervention viewed skeptically. This philosophy did not yield a perfect Eden nor did those who professed it always practice it faithfully, but the United States did win the Cold War, closed out the 20th century with two decades of barely interrupted economic growth, and became a respected and largely appreciated global hegemon—with a balanced federal budget to boot.
Anton would dispense with all that. He is the one who believes that American conservatism, as practiced in the latter decades of the 20th century, was “wrong philosophically, wrong on human nature, wrong on the nature of politics, and wrong on its policy prescriptions.” “The Flight 93 Election” was not just a rallying cry against Clinton, but a rallying cry against Goldwater–Reagan conservatism and in favor of big‐government nationalism, a political philosophy that is little different from turn‐of‐the‐20th‐century progressivism.
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Despite the essay’s “Flight 93” framing device, Anton made clear that support of Trump was more than a binary choice over Clinton; he embraced “Trumpism, broadly defined as secure borders, economic nationalism, and America‐first foreign policy.” He wrote,