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Columnist David Martin

"Nothing matters."

I don't know how many times I read or heard that statement throughout the 2016 presidential campaigns. It was a sentiment shared by countless folk who bafflingly scratched their heads while observing an election season that defied many familiar political rules.

Republicans souring on free trade? Rust Belt Democrats switching party allegiance? Evangelicals shrugging off Bill Clintonesque sexual improprieties?

Election 2016 often resembled an alternate world where, yes, nothing seemed to matter. But in the larger context of a political paradigm shift, which this year embodied in many ways, the "nothing matters" attitude made sense. The standards defining the political guardrails of the past few decades hadn't yielded favorable results for millions of Americans, specifically economic comforts, so people felt compelled to cast those norms off. After all, voters tend to align with political parties because they want results, not lip service.

And though he's done little more than talk himself, Donald Trump understood that truth. That's how he captivated a Republican electorate, many of whom were disgusted by weak-kneed establishment takes on policy matters like immigration. Too, that's how he made turncoats out of those Rust Belt Democrats who were sick of losing job prospects to foreign workers.

All that said, if I have one political Christmas wish it's for things — conservative things — to start mattering again.

While it's easy to understand the impulse to revolt against unsatisfactory politicos, it's a whole different ball of wax to abandon principles. Inhabiting the political right myself, I do hope this "nothing matters" phenomenon runs its course soon. Because, conservatives are supposed to care deeply about tradition and institutions. To this wing, things do matter — or, are supposed to — a lot.

These things (read: principles) are more substantial than merely winning elections and reveling in the spoils of those victories. Yet in the weeks since Election Day, I worry the GOP is losing focus on deeper matters.

And I'm not the only one. Conservative opinion writer Michael Gerson echoed this a few days ago in his column titled "The GOP is at its peak, but conservatism has hit rock bottom." In it he warns that "if conservatism is defined as embracing limited government, displaying a rational, skeptical and moderate temperament and believing in the priority of the moral order," it is "under attack" from within.

Indeed, many conservative Republicans have become so consumed with defending the legitimacy of Donald Trump's victory — pushing back against claims that Russian computer hackers won him the election or that his win should be void due to his popular vote deficiency — they're turning a blind eye to the fact many principles they've fought long and hard for are being threatened by the very man they elected.

Forget the Democrats and their post-election whining for a minute. Let them keep wallowing in the sadness of loss, questioning the Electoral College and pointing fingers at the Kremlin. Now is the time to make sure the president-elect, who won office thanks to millions of lifelong conservatives, actually safeguards the principles of that movement.

A thousand saved jobs at an Indiana Carrier plant won't "Make America Great Again." Not even close. But conservative ideals can. For what is the value of winning at the polls unless those wins yield the advancement of individual liberty, blind justice, equality and free markets?

In 2017, I do hope those things, the pillars of conservatism, continue to matter to America's most powerful party. If, however, they don't matter and the GOP abandons its principles to become just a different kind of big government party, what will they be working to protect in four years, power?

That's a scary (and depressing) thought.

Contact David Allen Martin at davidallenmartin423@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @DMart423.

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