Politics & Policy

Don’t Let Donald Trump Clintonize the GOP

Conservatives must call Trump to account when he veers from fundamental standards of morality and good sense.

Unless Donald Trump significantly changes course, conservatives should get ready for a wild, inconsistent, and exhausting four years. With the exception of short periods of quiet caused by desperate political necessity, the president-elect’s governing philosophy seems relatively simple: He does what he wants, when he wants. We’ve seen this movie before. It starred Bill and Hillary Clinton.

This doesn’t mean that Trump will have a free hand in policy. The Clintons certainly didn’t. After all, the American system boxes in a president, imposing comprehensive checks on his power. Just ask President Obama. He came into office promising to stop the rise of the oceans; he leaves with a legacy that features one unpopular social reform (Obamacare) and a collection of regulations and executive orders that Trump can unwind with the stroke of a pen.

No, Trump’s version of “I’ll do what I want” is a function of personality and politics. And it means that honest conservatives will be constantly lurching from applause and support to critique and condemnation. Nominees such as Betsy DeVos for secretary of education and Jeff Sessions for attorney general are outstanding; placing Steve Bannon so close to the seat of power is abominable. The president can’t “moonlight” as a real-estate mogul, and Republicans rightly outraged at the pay-to-play aspects of the Clinton Foundation can’t turn a blind eye to the potential influence of large-scale foreign business at Trump properties, hard as both may try.

In his public comments, Trump similarly lurches back and forth. His statement following Fidel Castro’s death was excellent, offering truth and moral clarity on the death of a vicious tyrant. Then, days later, he went on a tweet tirade that questioned the legitimacy of the electoral results, making a completely evidence-free claim that he would have won the popular vote but for “millions” of illegal votes for Hillary Clinton.

In other words, the president-elect of the United States of America repeated conspiracy theories from the dark corners of the Internet — conspiracy theories so blatantly absurd that any reasonable person should dismiss them out of hand. It was irresponsible for Trump to cast doubt on the integrity of the election, and it was entirely unnecessary.

Trump partisans wave this all away. He’s not impulsive; he’s “disruptive.” He’s not erratic; he’s playing nine-dimensional chess. But his partisans won’t ultimately decide his fate. He won millions of votes from people who don’t like him, but like Clinton less or simply wanted change. He is starting with Republican majorities in the House and Senate but without a strong public reservoir of good will. If he thinks that he can careen through his first term kicking up controversies every week, he may be in for a rude political awakening. After all, the Democrats aren’t dumb enough to nominate Hillary again.

The GOP needs merely to look to recent history to observe how quickly political triumph can turn to tragedy. Obama began his first term with larger House and Senate majorities than Republicans have now. He lost the House in two years and the Senate in six, even as he remained personally popular. In the latter part of Bill Clinton’s second term, Democrats crowed over his victory in the impeachment battle and his high personal approval ratings. But they wouldn’t win back the White House for another eight years.

#related#The Clinton comparison is key. Democratic partisans — obsessed with winning each news cycle — focused on short-term victory, on surviving each new scandal. Eventually, they became so morally compromised that they saw each and every new revelation about Bill and Hillary as cause for fresh outrage against Clinton critics. To hear Clinton loyalists talk about the 2016 election is to enter a parallel universe where the press was biased against her and she underperformed Obama because sexism is more acceptable than racism. It is frankly sad and pathetic.

Republicans need to decide: Will they allow Trump to Clintonize the GOP, or will they use their influence to hold him accountable not just to the party’s professed principles but also to basic standards of decency and good sense? If they don’t, then we can see their political tomorrow. It looks a lot like Hillary’s today.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Most Popular


A Reckoning Is in Store for Democrats

The crisis of the Democrats is becoming more evident each week. Those of us who have been loudly predicting for years that the Russian-collusion argument would be exposed as a defamatory farce, and that the authors of it would eventually pay for it, are bemused at the fallback position of the Trump-haters: that ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Ilhan Omar: A Hostage Situation

‘It has to stop,” says Representative Ilhan Omar. No, it does not. Representative Omar, the Jew-hating Minnesota Democrat, is engaged in one of her usual games of misdirection, a pattern of hers that by now is familiar enough to be predicted: She says something outrageously stupid, offensive, ... Read More

Why ‘Stop Sanders’?

'Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?” T. S. Eliot asked. “Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” And where is the intelligence we have lost in cleverness? Cleverness is the plague of our political classes, an influenza of the intellect. The consultants are always trying to ... Read More
Film & TV

Everyone Is Wrong about The Searchers

The greatest Western of all time . . . isn’t. Though The Searchers is regularly hailed as the finest exemplar of its genre and one of the best movies of any kind (seventh-best of all time, according to the decennial Sight & Sound poll), John Ford’s 1956 film is mediocre for most of its run time. Nearly ... Read More

Trump Is Hell-Bent on ‘Owning the Libs’

President Trump is looking into giving a free trip to San Francisco, New Orleans, or other great American cities to tens of thousands of refugees from Central America. All so he can own the libs. “Owning the libs” is one of those phrases to have emerged over the past few years that vacillates between ... Read More