Politics & Policy


(Tami Chappell/Reuters)
Donald Trump could conceivably win conservative voters, but it would require a complete makeover.

Ever since Donald Trump ascended to the role of presumptive Republican nominee, those of us in the #NeverTrump movement have come under heavy fire. Using the prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency as a threat, the more enthusiastic passengers aboard the Trump Train have attempted to pull us onboard. If we don’t vote for Trump, they insist, we’ll be turning the White House over to Hillary!

This is a weak argument for any number of reasons: that Trump is unfit for office of any sort, regardless of his opponent, based on both policy and character; that Trump is a leftist who will claw the face off the conservative movement and then wear it around as his own, Hannibal Lecter–style; that Trump is a vile authoritarian who could mobilize his alt-right, white-supremacist populist base to gut whatever is left of the Constitution, even while bearing the Republican mantle; that Trump will lose anyway, so why smear ourselves with the embarrassing stink of his candidacy for generations to come?

But there is a flaw in #NeverTrump. Its name implies that Trump cannot do anything to win over conservatives who don’t support him now. That’s not the case. #NeverTrump simply means that if on November 8 Donald Trump is who he is today and who he has been during this campaign, we cannot vote for him. We can still be wooed by real change. New evidence provides the basis for revised decision-making.

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So, what new evidence would change our minds?

First, a change in temperament. Trump has displayed instability, unwillingness to learn, and deep-seated arrogance manifest in an unearned sense of knowledge. His consummate belief in his own abilities as a dealmaker, combined with his unwarranted trust in his own ability to cut through thorny policy thickets with broad strokes, makes him ignorant and dangerous. His absolute disdain for the Constitution rolls from him in waves; he’d hate it if he bothered to read it.

All of this also makes him untrustworthy, even when he makes promises conservatives like.

This means that when he promises to build a wall, conservatives shrug — after all, he told the New York Times that everything is negotiable. It means that when he pledges to cut taxes (and then walks it back) and fight political correctness (then talks about restricting the First Amendment to target the press), conservatives shrug. It means that when he says he’s pro-life (then says Planned Parenthood does wonderful work) or that he’s pro–religious freedom (then backs government forcing private businesses to allow men into women’s rooms), conservatives shrug — well, what else would we expect?

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Thus far, every attempt to “change” Trump has failed. Trump has the self-control of a two-year-old, and approximately the same vocabulary. Trump has repeatedly stated that he can be “presidential” if he wants to, but he seems to believe that “presidential” means soporific. Every promise to pivot from his childish antics is quickly followed by a childish outburst. Just weeks ago, Trump ousted his hands-on campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, for the professional Putin-charmer Paul Manafort — and after Manafort informed the man he called “Donald” that he had to change, Trump replaced him with Lewandowski again. Lewandowski promptly thanked “Mr. Trump,” and Trump went back to being his less-than-charming self, citing his desire to be “politically incorrect.”

“Presidential” doesn’t mean politically correct, however. It means acting with forethought, studying situations before taking a position (let alone remarking upon them), recognizing that words and actions have consequences. It means an end to Trump’s patented strategy of taking the most extreme, simplistic position and then walking it back if he experiences resistance. It means shifting his personal constitution to countenance the boundaries of the United States Constitution.

It means being an adult.

#share#Now, there are still vicious adults. Some of us in the #NeverTrump movement don’t mind Trump’s branding skill, or his teenage insult-throwing, or his off-the-cuff remarks. That’s his charm. But style must follow substance, not the other way around. And even style has its limits. There is no excuse for insulting POWs or the disabled or women. That’s not political incorrectness. That’s just being a jackass.

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So, Trump would have to spend the rest of this campaign proving that he has the capacity to change his character — and the capacity to listen to his advisers. Then, he’d have to prove his conservatism by surrounding himself with the right people. First, of course, he’d have to stop talking like someone who sees conservatism as a burden rather than a philosophy of truth. This Sunday, he said that the Republican party is the Republican party, “not the conservative party.” True — but that doesn’t give conservatives much reason for hope.

Trump sees his ad hoc politics, his self-centered tyrannical tendencies, his unpredictable vulgarity as features, not bugs.

If Trump started talking about conservatism — unlikely — he’d then have to prove that he believes it and isn’t just manipulating. He could do that by naming his cabinet long before the election. Rudy Giuliani has apparently already been picked for secretary of homeland security. That’s a good start. The other cabinet picks — Chris Christie for attorney general, Ben Carson for secretary of health and human services — are less inspiring, given that Christie has become Renfield to Trump’s Dracula, and Carson is a walking corpse, his moral core ripped from his chest like a cast member from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Some have suggested Ted Cruz for the Supreme Court; that wouldn’t hurt. How about John Bolton for secretary of state, Tom Cotton for secretary of defense, Rand Paul for Treasury secretary?

Finally, he’d have to mirror actual conservative policies. Not once. Not sporadically. Consistently. He’d have to make an open pro-life pledge, as Mitt Romney did; the pro-life pledge should include the nomination of only justices who would revoke Roe v. Wade. He’d have to stand in favor of religious-freedom restoration laws. He’d have to stop his nonsense about revoking American debt and destroying American trade. He’d have to cut the isolationist foreign-policy nonsense.

#related#If he did even half of these things — and if he changed his character — we could jump on the Trump Train. But that’s a big ask of a 69-year-old alleged billionaire who has won the Republican nomination on the basis of his foibles. He sees his ad hoc politics, his self-centered tyrannical tendencies, his unpredictable vulgarity as features, not bugs. He seems much more enthusiastic about declaring war on conservatives than about wooing them; he’s already said we’re unnecessary.

If he continues along the path he has charted, Trump is about to find out whether his hypothesis — that he can utterly unmoor conservatism and constitutionalism from the Republican party, and chug along to victory — is true. We certainly hope it isn’t. America needs a conservative party, not another leftist party run by a leftist demagogue merely masquerading as a conservative.

Trump can still woo us, if he’s willing to change. But he bears the burden of proof.

— Ben Shapiro is the author of Primetime Propaganda: The True Hollywood Story of How the Left Took Over Your TV.


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