Politics & Policy

President-Elect Trump

President-elect Donald Trump and family, November 9, 2016 (Reuters photo: Carlo Allegri)

He did it. Donald Trump has just won the biggest upset in American history. In September we suggested that Republicans redeploy resources from the presidential race to the House and Senate races, in part because of polls that indicated that to win Trump would have to make up more ground more rapidly than any previous successful presidential candidate had done. He made up that ground, aided by Hillary Clinton’s recklessness with an e-mail server and her general inadequacy. Our congratulations to President-elect Trump, and provisional congratulations to the millions of Americans who have invested their hopes in him.

During the campaign Trump made many pledges: to nominate conservative justices, to crack down on illegal immigration, to reform the tax code, to protect religious liberty, and to replace Obamacare. His liberal history and his evident lack of interest in these issues created doubts among many conservatives. We hope he now proves us doubters wrong. To do that he will have to show a self-control that was not uniformly present during his campaign but that characterized his most successful moments of it. Congressional Republicans, who retained a majority in both chambers, should do what they can to reinforce Trump’s better instincts.

They should also temper “Trumpism.” To the extent that the election was a referendum on any issue, immigration was that issue. Trump originally gave voice to a restrictionist impulse on the part of the public and eventually reached the right position: for an entry-exit tracking system, stronger barriers at the border, and sanctions for businesses that hire illegal immigrants — but without either mass deportations or, until these policies are in place, amnesty. On that issue he should stick to the position on which he campaigned in the general election.

On trade, Trump has also carved out a distinctive position, but one that has less to recommend it. Further reductions in trade barriers may no longer be in the offing — but Trump should consider whether ripping up existing trade agreements and levying new tariffs will really yield results that enhance either our economy or his popularity. His foreign policy has seemed like a work in progress. He has said he wants to pressure allies to contribute more to the common defense; but he also rightly criticized President Obama for making those allies less confident in our commitment to them. Achieving both of Trump’s goals seems likely to require delicate diplomacy. But if one of those goals has to be sacrificed, the alliances are worth their budgetary price. Needless to say, we also hope he adopts a more clear-eyed view of Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Finally, rounding out our list of Trump’s major departures from conservative policy orthodoxy, there is the matter of entitlements. Trump has declared himself against cuts. So be it. But if we are to avoid middle-class tax increases or rising debt, we will have to restrain the growth of benefits.

Impressive as Trump’s victory was — and it was extremely impressive — he was elected by a country that questions his fitness for office and his honesty. It has been a long time since Americans believed that a president would govern in the interests of the entire people, not just his favored slice of it, and that distrust has crested in this election. Here too he should try to prove his critics wrong. He hit grace notes in his speech last night and he should continue to endeavor to show humility in this, his moment of supreme triumph.

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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