Politics & Policy

Dear Reagan Democrats: Donald Trump Will Use You and Leave You

Trump speaks at a rally in Concord, N.C., March 7, 2016. (Sean Rayford/Getty)

Over the weekend, the pro-Trump faction of my Facebook feed starting feverishly sharing a New York Post piece, by Army veteran John C. Kluge, entitled “Why I Support Trump — and Resent the Elites Trying to Destroy Him.” The essay makes what is best described as a Democrat’s case for Trump: He likes Donald Trump because he doesn’t worship free markets and free trade, won’t obsess over abortion, doesn’t pretend to fight big government, rejects nation-building, and doesn’t care much about civility. Kluge says he’s never voted for a Democrat, but now he no longer considers himself a member of the conservative movement.

Yet with the exception of his opposition to nation-building, an extraordinarily controversial approach even among life-long Republicans, how is Kluge recognizably conservative? The longer the race drags on, the electoral reality is increasingly clear. As the New York Times recently declared, Trump appeals to a “certain kind of Democrat,” and the GOP electorate, it turns out, is chock-full of Democrats.

This explains both the anger and alienation of Trump supporters within the GOP and the anger and rejection of him by Trump’s conservative opponents. It’s as if a husband and wife woke up after 30 years of marriage and suddenly realized that they didn’t even know each other any more, with each spouse convinced that he or she had spent the last many decades sacrificing for the sake of the other’s happiness. “I turned the thermostat to 68 and froze just to make you happy.” “Well, I listened to countless hours of that crap classic rock for you.”

This isn’t a new or particularly interesting insight, but what is puzzling — truly head-scratching –is why even a Reagan Democrat would believe that Trump would champion his interests. It’s like leaving your husband for a philandering, bankrupt playboy and saying to your husband, “Well, yeah, he’s going to break my heart and ruin our kids’ lives, but at least he’s not you.” The hate gives way to self-destruction.

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Is there the slightest evidence — taken from all the hours of debates and media interviews — that Trump possesses anything like a coherent economic philosophy, even if a misguided one? He’s an impulsive protectionist, his views depending on the question, the audience reaction, and,  maybe, his mood. No, his “policy” is a bizarre mish-mash of often contradictory opinions and declarations that mainly boil down to one word: “winning.”

#share#The same goes for immigration. He’s for more immigration. Then, he’s not. He’s for touch-back amnesty. Or maybe not. He’ll build a wall, or is that a bargaining position? He’ll deport all illegals, or is that just the opening round of negotiations? No one knows — not even Trump.

Trump’s ‘policy’ is a bizarre mish-mash of often contradictory opinions and declarations that boil down to one word: ‘winning.’

And if you think Trump is opposed to nation-building, it depends on which Trump you’re talking to. Is it the Trump who believes that the military just needs to ramp up murder, torture, and atrocities to defeat ISIS, or is it the Trump who actually said that the goal of American military strategy should be to make the ground safe for Exxon. (A little war for oil, anybody?) I’ve got a phrase for anyone who wants to clear a path for an American oil company to remake the Middle East, and that phrase is “nation-building.”

I will agree with Kluge and his allies that Trump will indeed not spend much time fretting about Planned Parenthood and its hundreds of thousands of victims, and I’ll also agree that he’ll match his fellow Democrats insult-for-insult in the race to the political gutter, but that’s supposed to persuade conservatives to drop their objections to Trump, hold their noses, and vote him into office?

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To improve the case for Trump, Kluge cleverly elides Trump’s actual statements. For example, he claims that conservatives reacted with outrage when Trump called the Iraq War a mistake (a war Trump publicly supported in late 2002), yet conservatives acted with true outrage only when Trump repeated the vicious slander that George W. Bush lied to start the war. In fact, the consensus position of the GOP field this year was that the U.S. shouldn’t have invaded Iraq.

#related#Look, an actual populist president would hardly be a national disaster. The Republic can survive a Reagan Democrat in the White House. But I know Reagan Democrats. I admire many Reagan Democrats. And Trump is no Reagan Democrat.

Given Trump’s contradictions and ad-libbed policies, I would say that God only knows what President Trump would do while in office. But I think we now have enough evidence to make an educated guess. He’d lie repeatedly, shift positions constantly, act impulsively, and — through it all — seek to intimidate and bully his opponents. That’s not conservatism, liberalism, or even populism — that’s just demagoguery.

The ideological and cultural strains in the GOP are very real. That’s not sad — it’s life. Coalitions of tens of millions of citizens always contain multitudes. But what is sad — no, what’s tragic — is that patriotic Americans like Mr. Kluge are setting the GOP on fire not to follow a courageous and principled leader but instead to stumble behind the erratic path of a con man and a fraud.

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