Politics & Policy

Stranger in a Strange Land

Trump speaks at a rally in Anaheim, Calif., May 25, 2016. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
For Trump, conservatism is a foreign realm to visit on the way to his final destination.

On Monday evening, Donald Trump gave a speech in which he attempted to lay out his economic plans for the nation. The speech represented his usual combination of good policy (tax cuts and regulatory loosening) and incoherent ignorance (free trade as the devil). But because Trump stuck to the teleprompter, for the first time in a week, Trump starved the media of a juicy headline — a gaffe that would distract from Hillary Clinton’s hurricane of incompetence.

And that minor amount of message discipline bore dividends: Within twelve hours, the news story of the day was that Hillary’s team had not only allowed the father of Orlando jihadist Omar Mateen into one of her rallies, but she had seated him behind her in full view of the audience and media. In other Hillary news, families of the Benghazi dead filed a lawsuit against Clinton. And in still other news, Hillary now has to answer questions about why there was material on her private server about an Iranian spy.

For nearly a full day, the news cycle seemed to spin Trump’s way.

Then the timer on his phone went off, and he realized it was time once again to shove his head up his ample orange rump. So, in the middle of a rally, he began rambling about Hillary Clinton’s Supreme Court picks. “If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks,” Trump mused. “Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is.”

This is silly stuff even if we assume that Trump knew that the Second Amendment pertains to firearms (always a mildly questionable proposition, given his knowledge of the Twelve Articles of the Constitution). It’s silly because a Supreme Court ruling overturning Heller isn’t going to lead gun owners to storm the White House and take Hillary Clinton hostage. That’s a slur on gun owners. Gun owners would probably take violent action against government agents if those government agents showed up on their doorsteps and entered their homes to confiscate their rightfully held guns. It’s condescending and dumb of Trump to portray “Second Amendment people” as sitting around, oiling their AR-15s, waiting on the edge of their chairs for the moment Justice Obama rules that we have no individual right to keep and bear arms. Violence against the government is the last resort for law-abiding gun owners; Trump treats “Second Amendment people” as vigilantes on the loose.

But that’s the natural result of nominating a man who speaks conservative as a second language.

Pro-life Americans already found this out when Trump was questioned about the legal consequences for abortion by MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. The Man Who Combs His Hair With A Shoe™ asked Trump: “Should the woman be punished for having an abortion? . . . If you say abortion is a crime or abortion is murder, you have to deal with it under law. Should abortion be punished?” Trump answered, because he is wildly unfamiliar with basic pro-life positioning, “Well, people in certain parts of the Republican party and conservative Republicans would say, ‘Yes, they should be punished.’ . . . The answer is that there has to be some form of punishment.” Matthews asked, “For the woman?” Trump answered, “Yeah, there has to be some form.”

This is what Trump imagined the “Abortion people” would think, just as he thinks that “Second Amendment people” are ready to load up and go hog-wild. And so conservatives had to spend a week re-explaining the basic pro-life position.

The same holds true with regard to Evangelical Christians. When he’s asked about his own level of religiosity, Trump has repeatedly changed the topic, uttering gobbledygook about his level of popularity among Evangelicals. When he’s forced to answer, he simply babbles about “an eye for an eye” (misinterpreting the text) and says he never wants to repent.

Again, Trump is a stranger in a strange land.

Trump is even ignorant about hawkish foreign policy. He knows that Republicans want somebody tough on security, but he takes that to mean Republicans want to shoot the family members of terrorists in violation of international law. He says he’s for America First, but he also disclaims American exceptionalism. When it comes to border security, Trump parrots Senator Jeff Sessions’s positions on immigration — until he doesn’t. He openly admits that he shouts “build that wall” in order to gin up his base, but he has no intention of actually building the wall — it’s a starting negotiation position.

Trump makes the same assessment of his voters that Barack Obama did: They are bitter clingers who cling to God and guns and xenophobia.

Donald Trump makes the same assessment of his voters that Barack Obama did: They are bitter clingers who cling to God and guns and xenophobia. He doesn’t know them. And they’re weird and alien. This is why Trump felt the need during the Republican National Convention to congratulate Republicans when they cheered his promise to defend gay citizens: “I must say, as a Republican, it’s so nice to hear you cheering for what I just said.” Could anything demonstrate Trump’s disconnect from his own voters better than this? Conservatives have never stood in favor of terrorists murdering homosexuals — and yet Trump seemed surprised by that revelation.

Because he’s not a conservative. Conservatives are kooky characters with whom he casually associates in order to get where he wants to be. The Second Amendment People are a different tribe — he can appease them with shouts of “NRA” even as he tells them that the government should use the terror watch list to ban gun ownership. The Abortion People are a different tribe, too; so, too, are the Foreign Policy People. This is why Trump falls back on the rhetorical tic of “some people say.” He wouldn’t say, but he knows that someone is saying something, and he wants to pay them homage.

Because conservatism is a foreign land to Trump, he regularly and unintentionally demeans conservative positions and philosophies. He allows the media to caricature conservatism as everything leftists have always believed conservatism to be: nasty, parochial, violent, and stupid. And thus conservatives have to spend more time re-explaining their positions than Trump spends defending them and promoting them to the American people.

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