I spent most of a recent Saturday morning locked in an intense text message debate with a dear friend.
The topic was Donald Trump’s recent decision to run for office.
And the interaction was probably not unique among conservative friend groups in recent weeks — for that matter, in recent years.
That is to say, it was not particularly productive.
We ‘talked’ over each other – she’s still a staunch Trump supporter, me incredulous that after the November midterms anyone could continue to hitch their wagon to Trump’s star.
Trump is unruly, I said. He is a political outsider, she says.
And the conversation continued along predictable lines.
As I have tried to explain, my concerns about Trump ran much deeper than the GOP’s dismal performance in the last national election.
From the start, my concerns about his leadership focused primarily on the impact his candidacy and presidency would have on the future of political conservatism.
I worried that his populism, celebrity persona and conservative “weather-weather” politics would end up forming rifts on the political right.
Conservatives would choose sides on a man – which I consider loyalty – over the political ideology he was supposed to represent.
We’ve seen it on the national stage, as Trump and his allies cannibalized any Republican politician who opposed or criticized him.
I worried about how this phenomenon would materialize within local parties and especially among family and friends.
In the midst of my debate over the text, my concerns turned out to be prophetic.
My friend and I did not discuss politics or even party ideals. We were arguing about Trump.
To me, the reasons for Trump’s dumping seemed obvious.
Even though his personal flaws might go unnoticed, he proved to be an electoral repellent.
Most of the Conservatives I have spoken to, those who have voted for him in the past, say they would not vote for him a third time.
For my friend, however, acknowledging this reality was just repeating media talking points she didn’t trust.
My criticism of him was personal and she agreed that as an individual he had flaws. But even I had to acknowledge the good he did as president, such as his record of conservative judicial appointments.
When Trump was president, she argued, we all won.
There wasn’t really anything we could say to change our minds. We left it there. But it struck me how far conservatives have come in the Trump era.
Several nights later, my family sat around the kitchen table playing Hoot, Owl, Hoot – a game we bought when we were trying to teach our eldest how to win or lose. It is a cooperative and non-competitive game.
All players have the same goal, to get all the owls home before sunrise. No one can achieve this without the help of others. Everyone wins or everyone loses.
A typical firstborn, my daughter hated him at first.
It took her years of playing to figure out how she had to unite the team’s goal with her own, to put aside her personal desire to win.
And while we were playing, I couldn’t stop thinking about my friend and conservatism in general.
The Trump era has done strange things to the conservative movement. Winning has become personal instead of collective, which means, in politics, most of us lose. If the November midterm election results don’t prove that, I don’t know what is. But the solution is not to double down on the same futile arguments.
This is going to require humility on the part of all parties. And to be trivial, a gentle reminder that our goal is the same, if only we could unite our team’s goal with our own.
Cynthia M. Allen is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.