Politics & Policy

Trump Has Succeeded in Convincing Conservatives to Discard their Principles Overnight

Trump works the crowd in Oskaloosa, Iowa, July 25, 2015. (Scott Olson/Getty)

Since he jumped self-confidently into the political limelight, Donald Trump has been quite the upside-down man. Customarily, primary seasons permit each party’s voters to indulge in a rational process of elimination: First, they discover which candidate most closely agrees with them on policy, and then they ask themselves whether that person is capable of representing their ideas in public. This time around, however, this process has been disastrously inverted, a solid portion of the Republican party’s balloters having decided first who they want to speak on their behalf, and then, as if t’were a mere afterthought, wondered what he might end up saying. That their pick lacks any sort of conservative message at all does not seem to have mattered in the slightest. “We want that guy,” a host of voters have determined. “Whatever he believes, he says it so well.”

If you have in the last few years become vexed and frustrated by the Republican base’s penchant for political purity, you should perhaps be breathing a little easier. A handful of months ago many of those who now make up Trump’s rank-and-file were ideological perfectionists who hated the GOP’s leadership, believed to their souls that the country was becoming a socialist hell-hole, and insisted vehemently that they had sat out the 2012 election because Mitt Romney was such a terrible squish. Today, by dint of some dark and unholy magic, these wannabe purists have hitched their wagons to Donald Trump, the greatest shape-shifter of them all.

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Thus it is that an array of self-described “true conservatives” have put themselves in the awkward position of supposing that an “assault weapons” ban isn’t that big a deal after all. Thus have the pioneers of litmus testing lined up obediently behind a guy whose position on Planned Parenthood is identical to Hillary Clinton’s. Thus have the Scalia-citing “constitutional conservatives” taken to lionizing a man whose primary criticism of the liberty-shredding Kelo v. New London ruling was that it didn’t go far enough. Thus have the screaming eagles of Twitter and beyond taken to contending that the class-conscious tax hikes that the America-hating communist Bernie Sanders proposes are akin to apple-pie-and-motherhood when they’re floated by Donald Trump.

Little did we know how quickly “take America back” would disintegrate in the face of a little pop culture. When, in the early fifteenth century, Pope Leo X began to move the Vatican in a direction that the faithful considered unorthodox, Martin Luther launched the spiritual counterattack by issuing a restatement of his principles. When, in 2015, a pretender rose to the top of the Republican field and began to tug the party toward Europe on every issue but one, he was swiftly rewarded with surging poll numbers and a rock’s star’s reception. Molon labe? Sure, unless the Persians are on The Apprentice.

#share#“For years,” the New York Times observed drily yesterday, “Republicans have run for office on promises of cutting taxes and bolstering business to stimulate economic growth. . . . But this election cycle, the Republican presidential candidate who currently leads in most polls is taking a different approach, and it is jangling the nerves of some of the party’s most traditional supporters.”

As it damn well should.

‘We want that guy,’ a host of voters have determined. Whatever he believes, he says it so well.

Contrary to the fevered imagination of the exasperated American Left, conservative candidates for public office do not tend to take a free-market approach to fiscal policy because it helps “the rich,” but because they believe in earnest that it helps the whole country. By and large, this same rule applies to conservative voters, many of whom may not always benefit directly from the lack of meddling and modest confiscation, but who conceive nevertheless that a capitalistic economy is likely to deliver better results in the long term than is a power-hungry Uncle Sam. That old bolshie John Steinbeck may or may not have written that “socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires,” but the sentiment is a solid one nonetheless. That Thomas Frank and his many friends within the “what’s the matter with Kansas?” clique happen to believe solemnly that higher taxes, more spending, and increased regulation would be better for poorer Americans does not, in fact, mean that those Americans secretly agree. On the contrary: Obamaesque talk of “fair shares” is usually met with pushback and even insults from rightward-leaning types of all classes and cabals. That Donald Trump is winning their support with the sort of brainless, simplistic, counter-Bastiatian snake-oil that is typically dismissed out of hand is nothing short of astonishing.

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#related#In recent weeks, the Times reports, “Trump has threatened to impose tariffs on American companies that put their factories in other countries,” and vowed too to “increase taxes on the compensation of hedge fund managers.” Elsewhere, he has brazenly channeled Elizabeth Warren in tone — “didn’t build this country”; “fair share”; “got lucky” — and promised increases in government spending that are demonstrably unsustainable. Alas, he has suffered scant pushback for his heresy. Honesty requires us to acknowledge that had President Obama endorsed exactly the same policies and rhetoric, the reaction from the Trumpkins would have been little short of nuclear. Where are those fawning Paul Ryan memes and indignant Founding Fathers’ quotes now, chaps?

— Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer for National Review.


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