You reap what you sow. For a generation since Ronald Reagan left Washington — that would be the Ronald Reagan who knew that “I’m from the government and I’m here to help” was a punch line — the “conservative” Republican party has sown an incoherent statism that has trouble telling the good guys from the bad guys. On Thursday night came the harvest: The party was formally taken over by an incoherent statist whose “conservatism” is not done justice by scare quotes. Oh . . . and he has trouble telling the good guys from the bad guys.
Of course, you wouldn’t get that from his acceptance speech. Donald Trump doesn’t know much, but he has a genius for self-promotion and marketing. The conservative intellectuals and Washington political class so dismissive of his bravura 72-minute performance for its high-decibel staccato and occasional rambling repetitiveness are missing the point, as they have throughout Trump’s ascent.
He’s with the cops against the thugs who shoot them down. He’s with peace-loving Americans (and don’t forget the “Q” after “LGBT”) against the barbaric Islamic terrorists who besiege them. He’s with wall-deprived communities preyed upon by illegal aliens. He’s now with the upright American middle class screwed over by the cabal of Beltway insiders and crony capitalists (of which he was, until moments ago, a member in good standing). He is the embodiment of law and order, pitted against Hillary Clinton, a recidivist felon in the court of public opinion — one the throng in Cleveland wants “locked up,” pronto.
As every demagogue from Huey Long to Saul Alinksy to Barack Obama knows, what the masses want is a villain to seize on. There’s a right side and a wrong side, good and evil. Trump gets that the power of caricature triumphs over fact and complexity in modern America. Just ask “Lyin’ Ted.”
Trump’s speech was a paean to centralized power — which, personified by Trump, would become larger-than-life government.
That’s why “Crooked Hillary” ought to be nervous. Trump is more ill-suited for the presidency than anyone who has ever sought it . . . with the exception of Mrs. Clinton herself. She is an atrocious enough candidate that she could forfeit the Democrats’ electoral-map advantages, just as she managed to lose a shoo-in primary contest in 2008 and nearly botched her coronation this time around. Trump could very well win.
That ought to make the rest of us nervous. And no, the specter is made no less nerve-wracking by the patent unfitness of the former secretary of state — who, as I argue in the current issue of National Review, ought to be impeached now, before she can darken the Oval Office doorstep.
Trump’s speech was a paean to centralized power — which, personified by Trump, would become larger-than-life government. As sloganeering, “Make America Great Again” may not be quite as bold as Obama’s “hope and change,” which was to have healed the earth and lowered the sea levels by now. But Trump vows to end ISIS, violent crime, illegal immigration, bad trade deals, and (of course) wasteful government spending — all, evidently, in the first days of his administration. He will do all this and more by flexing Leviathan’s muscles.
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If you were waiting for Trump to champion individual liberty and limits on state power, you waited in vain — except for a couple of throw-away lines about preserving the Second Amendment and free-speech rights . . . which were impressive only if you were unfamiliar with Trump’s history of support for President Clinton’s ban on “assault weapons” and for looser libel laws that would make it easier for him to sue his legions of detractors.
Just a day before, in an interview with the New York Times, Trump effusively praised Turkey’s radical-Islamic strongman, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for putting down an attempted coup d’état. The military uprising aimed to thwart Erdogan’s sharia authoritarianism and restore the secular society guaranteed by the country’s constitution. In defeating the putsch, he heavily relied on his Muslim Brotherhood allies, who led the pro-government resistance on the streets.
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In sum, Turkey was a replay of Egypt, and Trump played it exactly as Clinton did: backing the Islamic supremacists. It is really no surprise in light of Trump’s long history of donating heavily to Clinton, praising her performance as secretary of state, and opining that she’d make a stellar president. Meanwhile, he told the Times that he hopes to get lots of help from Erdogan in confronting ISIS. Apparently, Trump is unaware that ISIS would not be ISIS were it not for Erdogan’s support.
I will never be able to say I want him to win — only that I’m certain I want Hillary Clinton to lose.
It bears remembering here that the Republican administration of George W. Bush was the first to embrace Erdogan, sticking by him as he re-Islamized Turkey and brutally suppressed dissent. Those were the heady days of “Islamic democracy” promotion when Republicans assured us that sharia and freedom were perfectly compatible. And now, as Trump blows kisses at the rapacious Vladimir Putin and signals to the Times that he is ready to abandon our nation’s NATO treaty obligation to defend the Baltics from Russian aggression, it similarly bears remembering that it was Bush who first proclaimed Putin trustworthy — a strategic partner — upon gazing into his eyes and examining his soul.
For these post-Reagan Republicans, conservative was passé. They needed to be “compassionate conservatives,” as if there were something vaguely inhumane about the liberty enterprise. Government was no longer the “necessary evil” envisioned by the Framers, the butt of the Gipper’s aforementioned quip. It was our beneficent guardian who “has got to move” whenever “somebody hurts.” These Republicans doubled the national debt before Obama came along to double it again. The new and improved GOP swelled the size and scope of government; created new entitlements even as the existing ones were bankrupting us; enacted “campaign-finance reform” well aware that it flouted the First Amendment; and derided their own base as racist xenophobes for resisting amnesty for illegal aliens. And was there any Obama overreach that they weren’t happy to foot the bill for?Take away the conservatism, the limited-government constitutionalism, the devotion to liberty, the fiscal discipline, the clear-eyed recognition of America’s enemies, and what are you left with? A Republican party whose only real boast is that it can do statism with more adult moderation than the hard Left that has captured the Democratic party. To the extent that, a generation ago, “Republican” was fairly thought synonymous with “conservative,” it thus became a party “Republican” in name only — a party in which all principles were negotiable.
That made it a party ripe to be taken over by Donald Trump. But what is now officially Trump’s party has not been my party for quite some time.
It is a comfort that Trump will have some solid people around him, but the truth remains that he is uninformed on many topics, ill-informed on others, untrustworthy, and pathologically vindictive. I will never be able to say I want him to win — only that I’m certain I want Hillary Clinton to lose.
Whoever wins, I know that come January, I will be in the conservative opposition to a statist administration, and in search of a new party to call home.
— Andrew C. McCarthy is as senior policy fellow at the National Review Institute and a contributing editor of National Review.