Hong Joon-pyo, a former presidential candidate of the conservative Liberty Korea party, held a campaign in Seoul in May 2017. Hong, who lost, often resembled President Trump, but has since distanced himself, saying: "He did not, stay in his words." (Chung Sung-Jun / Getty Images)
SEOUL – For the conservatives of South Korea, President Trump seemed like an ally. Their hard talk about North Korea, their pro-military views and their disdain for liberal politics, all fit perfectly with the ideas that had ruled here for decades.
But almost 18 months after his presidency, many recognize that Trump has been a disaster for the beleaguered conservative movement in South Korea.
"I still can not understand it," said Hong Joon-pyo, former leader of the country's largest right-wing party, Liberty Korea, said about the Trump meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in June on June 12. "I never imagined that a US government would help a leftist government in South Korea."  In a nation where the political right has based its policies on deep animosity towards North Korea and unwavering support for the US military alliance. The Conservatives are now dealing with an American leader who is not only willing to meet and praise Kim, but also who is reflecting publicly on the withdrawal of the troops.
Right-wingers in South Korea are in the midst of a full-blown identity crisis. And the effect can be seen in the electoral votes and opinion polls.
In the regional elections of June 13, the Freedom Party of Korea suffered a humiliating defeat, winning only two of the 17 main seats of the mayor's office and the governorship and only a little more than half of the votes received by the ruler. Minjoo party.
Liberal candidate Moon Jae-in defeated Hong in last year's presidential election by more than 17 percentage points. As president, Moon now enjoys approval ratings of nearly 70%, suggesting that many former supporters of conservative parties support him.
With the parliamentary elections scheduled for 2020, Liberty Korea is in the process of reinventing South Korean conservatism in a desperate bid to retain political relevance. For Kang Yean-jae, a losing candidate for the party in the June regional elections, the outlook for the right is as bad as it gets.
"It will not survive unless it changes completely," Kang said.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un walks with President Trump during a break in talks at his summit in Singapore. (Anthony Wallace / AFP / Getty Images)
Among the older Rightists like Hong, the despair is palpable. During a recent meeting at a Japanese restaurant in the luxurious Jamsil neighborhood of Seoul, Hong wore a red blazer and a shirt, a nod to the color of South Korea's conservatism. But although his impetuous tone once earned him comparisons with Trump, Hong now distances himself.
"Trump turned out to be a person who takes diplomacy as something similar to a commercial transaction," he said. "He did not stick to his words"
Rottenness in the conservative movement of South Korea was established before the arrest of Trump with North Korea. It accelerated with a series of scandals surrounding former Conservative President Park Geun-hye that left the movement deeply divided.
The daughter of former President Park Chung-hee, an autocrat who presided over an economic boom to be badbadinated in 1979, the Youngest Park made history as the first female president of South Korea in 2013. But accusations of cronyism soon They saw their domestic support drop dramatically.
As of November 2016, its approval rating was only 4 percent, the lowest ever registered in South Korea. In a subsequent impeachment vote, almost half of the legislators of his own party voted against it. Park was dismissed last year and in April he was sentenced to 24 years in prison.
The impeachment provoked a schism among the conservatives. Some were horrified by what their leader had done and distanced themselves from their Saenuri Party, later renamed Liberty Korea.
"I can understand someone going to the left or going to the right, that was a choice they made, but she went to the basement," said Lee Jun-seok, a Harvard-educated curator who left Saenuri for the scandal .
However, support for Park persists, most fervently in the Party of Korean Patriots, which holds frequent rallies to protest his imprisonment. This group had once seen Trump as their savior; supporters waved American and Israeli flags and called him not only to help free Park, but also to strike North Korea preemptively.
Since the Singapore summit, Trump's face has been notably absent at pro Park rallies. Seo Seok-gu, a Park attorney who spoke at a rally in June, said many were disappointed that Trump had met with Kim a day before local elections here. "We conservatives were criticizing the dictator Kim Jong Un," said Seo. "Why did Trump openly praise the North Korean dictator?"
Supporters of former President Park Geun-hye demonstrated in front of the Seoul Central District Court on April 6. (Chung Sung-Jun / Getty Images)  The division limits the collective power of the movement. The Korean Patriotic Party has only one member in the 300-seat parliament, but Bareunmirae, a smaller center-right party that includes conservatives who distanced themselves from Park, has 30 seats. Liberty Korea is by far the largest with 112, but still divided into pro and anti-Park lines.
To win more seats by 2020, conservatives will have to think of a way to reach young voters, who poll show to a large extent the support of Moon and the North Korean talks he has pushed. Recent reports that the armed forces of South Korea had drawn up plans for martial law during the protests against the Park run mainly by young people have made that more difficult.
"That's the problem for conservative parties now," said Kang Won-taek, a political science professor at Seoul National University. "There is not a new look".
An emergency committee will decide the new leadership of Liberty Korea, and with it, a new face for the conservatism of South Korea. But with the party's historic platforms that now seem to be out of touch with the Korean public and the US leadership. UU., The road is not clear.
Some conservatives say they must stand their ground, that the talks in North Korea will break soon and that their supporters could come back. Moon Chung-in, a liberal academic and adviser to the president, agreed that the conservatives' fortunes could bounce if the North Korean talks fail.
"In South Korea, conservatism is not dead, it is good and alive," he said, pointing out the power of the main conservative newspapers like Chosun Ilbo.
Others, however, argue that Liberty Korea needs to pivot as the country changes. Kang Yean-jae, who joined the party this year, said it is clear that people want peace with North Korea. Conservatives must accept that, he said, while acting as the voice of caution.
Lee, who at 33 years sees himself as one of a younger generation of conservatives who want to focus more on economic issues, said a major change was possible, too: Conservatives may finally be reconsidering their absolute confidence in the US Army UU "It was inevitable," Lee said of the change. "It's just changing before we thought."
"Actually, I'm looking forward to it," he added.
For older conservatives like Hong, such an adaptation might prove more difficult.
Taking a break from politics, Hong flew to Los Angeles on Wednesday. He said his plan is to stay in the United States for the next few months by studying North Korea's problems.
South Korea reason to be skeptical – and optimistic – about the dialogue with North Korea  The President of South Korea Moon is the man in the (very precarious) medium
Today's coverage of postal correspondents around the world
Like Washington Post World on Facebook and stay updated on foreign news