Politics & Policy

Holding Trump’s Feet to the Fire

Trump at the first presidential debate at Hofstra University in September. (Reuters photo: Lucas Jackson)
Shake off that post-election glow, and stop falling in line, conservatives.

On Tuesday, Newt Gingrich unveiled his newest speech, “The Principles of Trumpism,” at the Heritage Foundation. Gingrich, who used to provide intellectual heft to conservative ideas, now lends his brains to providing an ad hoc political movement with the veneer of philosophy — at an elevated speaking cost, of course.

So, what are the principles of Trumpism? Opposing political correctness, saying “Merry Christmas,” and protectionism, among others. But mainly, the Principles of Trumpism are the Attitudes of Trumpism: populist rabble-rousing, “in the tradition of Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, FDR, and Ronald Reagan,” Gingrich said. “And by that I mean, in every case, they believed in the American people, they aroused the American people, and they led the American people to victory over entrenched powerful interests.”

Gingrich never bothered to mention that Jackson was an ambitious demagogue who cared little about legal restrictions on his power and used the spoils system to punish his enemies and reward his friends; Teddy Roosevelt was a progressive who massively expanded the reach and power of the federal government; FDR destroyed the very notion of limited government in the United States and ruled from on high using the might of the federal government. If we are to take Gingrich seriously, the main Principle of Trumpism is this: Say whatever you can to win popularity, then use whatever power you have to do what you want.

And Republicans defend all this.

The supposed conservative “thought leaders” — who, we were told, would hem Trump in — have instead knelt before him. Vice President–elect Mike Pence, the man we were promised would limit Trump’s anti-conservative heresies, now says, “The free market has been sorting it out and America’s been losing.” (Trump’s reply: “Every time, every time.”) Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, asked about Trump’s potential business conflicts, simply brushed off such concerns: “This is not what I’m concerned about in Congress.” Ryan has also endorsed Trump’s controversial pick of pro-Russian Rex Tillerson as the potential secretary of state, and he has dismissed questions about Trump’s bizarre insistence that 3 million people voted fraudulently for Hillary Clinton. Senator Ted Cruz, who spent the primaries railing against cronyism, now says that the Carrier deal — a textbook example of cronyism — is great politics: “I think the American people are gratified to have an incoming president, an incoming administration, that will fight to keep jobs here in America.”

All of this has an impact. As I wrote at the Daily Wire last week:

Fully 57 percent of Republicans answered “agree” to the statement, “The free market has been sorting [the economy] out and America’s been losing.” 69 percent of Republicans say that it is acceptable for the president and vice president to “directly negotiate with private businesses,” which is definitional economic corporatism; 78 percent say they’re fine with Trump and Pence offering “tax breaks or incentives to individual companies to keep jobs in the U.S.” — still more crony corporatism; 71 percent signed off on Trump and Pence offering government contracts to individual companies to keep jobs in the U.S., which is Obama-esque stimulus; 75 percent said they were fine with Trump and Pence negotiating with individual private companies on a case-by-case basis.

Meanwhile, Republican after Republican has signaled willingness to go along with Trumpian foreign policy, which seems heavily reliant on trust in Vladimir Putin. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who once called Putin an “adversary,” now says he’ll support Tillerson. Sean Hannity rails against anyone who would dare question Putin-backed hacks of the Democratic National Committee, stating that such questions show insufficient loyalty to Trump.

What’s the point of all of this?

Now would be the time to call out Trump’s heresies, if conservatives weren’t lying when they said they’d hold his feet to the fire.

During the election cycle, one could make the argument — I heard it frequently enough — that all criticism of Trump had to be silenced in order to prevent Hillary’s election. A single word critical of Trump could turn a vote; that vote could prevent Trump from being elected. I didn’t buy that logic because my job wasn’t to get Trump elected; it was to call events and facts according to the dictates of conservatism. If Trump didn’t want my criticism, he had an easy solution: He could stop saying anti-conservative things.

But at least there was a utilitarian argument for “Shut up, cuck.”

Now there isn’t. Trump is the president-elect. Hillary Clinton is off wandering through the woods like Sasquatch. Now would be the time to call out Trump’s heresies, if conservatives weren’t lying when they said they’d hold his feet to the fire.

And yet that’s not what’s happening.

There are two possible explanations for conservatives falling in line behind Trump’s bad ideas. First, we could be in the postcoital glow: Trump’s victory has created a halo effect that makes it easier to simply shout “MAGA!” in ecstasy instead of looking at policy. Criticism seems like a damp blanket during a time of celebration — nobody likes a Republican party-pooper.

#related#Second, we could be seeing a tactical attempt by many Republican leaders to flatter Trump into conservatism. That seems to be Paul Ryan’s tactic: Praise Trump to the skies and hope he treats Ryan the same way he treats Putin. This tactic is bound to fail, however: Trump lets flattery work on him only if he has an underlying kinship with the flatterer. Otherwise, he treats flattery as weakness. Mitt Romney tried to flatter Trump, and Trump instead treated him as a penitent Ned Stark, chopping off his head to the delight of the passengers on the Joffrey Train. Ted Cruz did the same, and he got left out in the cold. Trump is fine with Putin’s flattery because he admires Putin’s stronk-like-bool style; he’s not so hot on Chris Christie’s flattery, instead sending Christie back to New Jersey to fetch burgers. If Paul Ryan is delusional enough to believe that his generosity with Trump will earn Trump’s support on entitlement reform, he’s about to be rudely awakened.

Meanwhile, the illusion of conservative unity behind Trump will help Trump effect a soul-suck of the movement itself: Trump will consolidate his gains, then do what he wants. After all, that’s the actual Principle of Trumpism: What’s best for Trump is principal.

Mr. Shapiro is the host of the podcast The Ben Shapiro Show, the editor emeritus of The Daily Wire, and the author of How to Destroy America in Three Easy Steps and The Right Side of History.

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