Following the recent death of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, conservatives were in a spasm of moral clarity. It felt like an old band rehashing its greatest hits as they issued thundering condemnations of the communist island regime and Castro's many euphemism-laden obituaries in the American press, as well as the embarrassing whitewashing statements from world leaders like Canada's Justin Trudeau.
Then the reality of America's would-be autocrat and conspiracy-theorist-in-chief Donald Trump reasserted itself, in a series of bizarre tweets in which the president-elect alleged that he would have won the popular vote if not for widespread voter fraud, followed two days later by the suggestion that flag burners should be jailed and lose their citizenship.
Castro is dead. Trump lives.
Conservatives have adapted to this uncertain reality in a variety of ways. Here are five of their core strategies.
1. The Steve Moore method: Total capitulation
As recently as August 2015, Moore (along with fellow supply-side fanatic Larry Kudlow) warned that Trump was a neo-Herbert Hoover who would sever the party from its Reaganite free-trade roots. Now the Club for Growth founder is reportedly telling Republican lawmakers that the party no longer belongs to Reagan. "Just as Reagan converted the GOP into a conservative party, Trump has converted the GOP in a populist working-class party," he said.
The Moore method posits that Trump has dramatically changed the Republican Party. Everyone needs to adjust accordingly.
The good news for monomaniacs like Moore (who is now one of the president-elect's top economic advisers) is that Trump, supposed avatar of working-class populism, may very well sign into law a gigantic tax cut for the top 0.1 percent, despite a campaign premised on confronting Wall Street elites and lifting up the "forgotten man and woman."
Capitulation, apparently, is not without its ideological satisfactions.
2. The Mike Lee method: Truth in labeling
Throughout the campaign, the junior senator from Utah unflinchingly opposed Trump. Now he proposes a detente of sorts: a partnership to decentralize power under the banner of "principled populism." Lee's proposal is essentially a rebranding effort to exploit Trump's native talent for identifying sources of unrest. The solutions, meanwhile, will look like what Lee and fellow reformicons have recommended all along.
"The rough terms of a successful partnership seem obvious," Lee wrote in National Review. "Populism identifies the problems; conservatism develops the solutions; and President Trump oversees the process with a veto pen that keeps everyone honest. Call it 'principled populism': an authentic conservatism focused on solving the problems that face working Americans in a fracturing society and globalizing economy."
The Lee method is, tactically speaking, very much worth trying. But it remains to be seen whether the Trump White House, with its many competing voices, will consent to the outsourcing of its policy agenda to a cadre of conservative wonks who have kept Trump at arm's length if they haven't shunned him entirely.
3. The Marco Rubio/Ted Cruz method: Business as usual
This could be named for almost any other prominent Republican. Yet none captures the arc of resistance to resignation as neatly as erstwhile rivals Rubio and Cruz. During the GOP presidential primaries, Rubio called Trump a "con artist" who, if not for inherited wealth, would be selling watches on the streets of Manhattan. Cruz called Trump "utterly amoral." The pair also, at Sen. Lee's urging, explored the possibility of a unity ticket to take Trump down. At some point, however, both made their peace and endorsed their party's nominee. Not even the revelation that he was an alleged serial molester of women could dislodge them from supporting the embattled Trump.
How alarmed is Rubio, probably the most hawkish of the 17 Republican presidential candidates, by Trump's connections to the Putin regime? How does Cruz really feel about Trump spouting conspiracy theories originating from Infowars with the same abject disregard for truth that he accused Cruz's father of involvement in the JFK assassination?
No one knows. Like most other key Republicans, Rubio and Cruz have largely conducted themselves as though the election of Trump was a move-along, nothing-to-see-here event.
4. The institutionalist's method: Restraint from without
Throughout the Obama years, perceptive thinkers on the right such as Yuval Levin have warned against the erosion of Congress' lawmaking prerogatives — an extraconstitutional habit of policymaking that has taken root in both Republican and Democratic administrations.
The institutionalist sees the rise of Trump — an outsider who hijacked one party to defeat the other — as a grand opportunity for both the left and right to restore Congress' constitutional authority. The Hudson Institute's Christopher DeMuth writes in the Wall Street Journal: "Under the circumstances, Congress is bound to recover and assert many of its long-neglected legislative prerogatives."
To realize this potential restoration, conservatives may find themselves in the position of sacrificing ends for means — of not doing what they believe is the right thing unless it's done the right way.
For the sake of the long-term health of both parties, here's hoping DeMuth is right.
5. The Mitt Romney method: Restraint from within
The former Massachusetts governor and 2012 GOP presidential nominee has been left in reality-show-like limbo as he awaits news of Trump's choice of secretary of state. We're not privy to the conversations Trump has had with Romney since winning the presidency, but we know this much: Romney has not recanted his denunciation of Trump and, indeed, added the specter of "trickle-down racism" to his critique of Trumpism after the election took place.
Romney's seeming independence reportedly has Trump insiders worried that he would preside over a "rogue agency" within the administration.
Mitt Romney, an uncommonly decent man, would be the least likely "rogue" in the history of American politics. But such is the reality of living through a rogue presidency.