‘Trump showed the way’: Conservatives see a chance to impose minority rule for generations
Donald Trump speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona. (Gage Skidmore)

Donald Trump has left office, at least for now, but the right-wing movement he inspired has been emboldened in its quest to remake the United States into what hardcore conservatives believe it was before the rise of progressives and secularism.

Ryan Willians, the head of the right-wing Claremont Institute, said his organization aims to "save Western civilization" from those twin evils, which he told The Atlantic had split America into two fundamentally different countries that are on a collision course for conflict -- although that's something he hopes to avoid.

"I worry about such a conflict," he told the magazine. "The Civil War was terrible. It should be the thing we try to avoid almost at all costs."

However, he recognizes that at least half the country disagrees with his think tank's principles and political philosophy.

"If we differ on those fundamental things, we're really two Americas," Williams said. "Even during the Civil War — I think we're more divided now than we were then. As Lincoln said, we all prayed to the same God. We all believed in the same Constitution. We just differed over the question of slavery."

He called for a more robust form of federalism to give states more latitude in governing themselves, since many of them have settled into stable political majorities -- but Williams hopes for an enduring conservative takeover of the federal government.

"The ideal endgame would be to effect a realignment of our politics and take control of all three branches of government for a generation or two," he said. "The goal would not be the reconquest of blue America but rather the restoration of the constitutional regime that we think has been lost."

Williams argued that conservatives have a constitutional right to impose minority rule on a country that hasn't given a Republican presidential candidate a popular vote win in decades.

"I reject the premise that just because the popular vote isn't won, you don't possess a constitutional majority," he said. "We have an Electoral College system for a reason. Democracy, for the Founders, was a means to the end of the protection of rights. They set up a republic, not a democracy. The rule of pure numbers was never the touchstone of justice for the Founders. But the persistent inability of the right to win popular majorities — that is a problem. Ours is a project of persuading our fellow citizens, even independents and Democrats, that the current regime is on the wrong track."

"Trump showed the way it could be done," he added. "That was just the beginning."

Williams rejected the popular will of voters and the philosophical idea of subjective truth, which he believes underpins progressive ideology, but he turned around and embraced both those ideas to justify the conservative belief in QAnon and other right-wing conspiracy theories.

"We believe in truth and reason," he said. "The question is whose truth and whose reason. That's part of the contested quality of our national politics, and it's not just the right. A third of the country thinks the election was given to Biden fraudulently. That includes a lot of Democrats."

"We're no Q fans at Claremont," Williams added. "But it should not be surprising that, in our ideologically divided times, we have real division over truth and reality. Our national elites, and especially media elites, seem to be an ideological wing of left America rather than neutral arbiters of truth. It shouldn't be a surprise that a good portion of the disaffected right turns to alternative sources for their political information. Many of those sources are cranks and lunatics, but that's also nothing new. We've always had a robust tradition of firebrands and conspiracy theorists. It's very American, in a way."