With every passing week it becomes harder and harder to deny that Donald Trump is unfit to be president of the United States. Some of us have been arguing this for many months now, but at this point even the most rose-colored glasses must be losing their shade. During last couple weeks alone, Mr. Trump attacked Gold Star parents, stated that the president founded ISIS, and made a completely inappropriate and irresponsible joke about — I can’t believe I’m writing this — his opponent being shot.
This is candidate Trump. Imagine if Donald Trump were president.
September 11, 2001 is a date we all know. But September 17, 2001 is an important date that has largely been forgotten. Six days after 9/11, President George W. Bush went to a mosque to speak against the harassment of Muslims in the aftermath of the attack. “In our anger and emotion, our fellow Americans must treat each other with respect,” said President Bush. Addressing the fact that many Muslim Americans felt intimidated by other Americans, Mr. Bush said: “Those who feel like they can intimidate our fellow citizens to take out their anger don’t represent the best of America, they represent the worst of humankind, and they should be ashamed of that kind of behavior.”
This was an act of presidential leadership. In a time of fear and uncertainty, President Bush used his office to call Americans to our best selves, to remind us that part of what was attacked on 9/11 — our commitment to pluralism and tolerance — shouldn’t be willingly surrendered in the days that followed. Mr. Bush used the presidency to comfort and reassure American Muslims, and to elevate all Americans.
In the event of a future tragedy, instead of seeking to elevate Americans, a President Trump might do what he has done in his campaign: play on people’s base fears and anxieties, repeat conspiracy theories, and whip people up. Judging by his behavior as a presidential candidate, that’s by far the best bet.
Or imagine a President Trump in the midst of a severe recession. He can’t even express a consistent position on the minimum wage. How could he handle an economic crisis? Or imagine Mr. Trump in the middle of a foreign policy crisis. Or, or, or. And forget policy decisions and crisis management, which are really hard; just focus on rhetoric: The president of the United States simply must be able to control what comes out of his mouth, which Mr. Trump seems unable to do.
So that is that. It’s time for conservatives to look to the future. Now that we have seen Trump’s rise — and assuming he doesn’t get elected president — what should come next?
The wrong answer is nothing. It is true that Trump wasn’t inevitable, and that many things had to go wrong in order for Trump to seize the Republican Party’s nomination for president. But there’s a lot that should be changed to make sure the GOP’s future never sees another Trumpian nominee.
Let’s start with public policy. It is tempting to argue that conservatives need to let lie their agenda of lower tax rates, less spending, free trade, and less regulation, and to reduce their focus on economic growth. Tempting, but wrong — this agenda and focus are important and proper.
But conservatives also need to develop a robust agenda with the goal of increasing employment rates, skills, and wages among the working class and the poor; an agenda to fix our failing K-12 schools and to deal with the cost of higher education; an agenda to reform our healthcare system — a suite of policies across many areas designed to apply conservative principles to the many problems facing America and Americans today.
The Republican Party, the imperfect political vehicle for the conservative movement, needs a tune-up as well. For example, the presidential nominating process is broken. (Look no further than this year’s nominee.) It needs to be repaired. Jeffrey H. Anderson and Jay Cost published a thoughtful plan in 2013 for creating a new nominating process, modeled after the process by which the U.S. Constitution was ratified. Their plan, along with other ideas for replacing the current system, need to be seriously discussed.
I might lean a little more heavily on superdelegates — party leaders who are free to vote at the nominating convention for whomever they want — than Messrs. Anderson and Cost. Many conservatives don’t like the idea of superdelegates, but in my view they would be a helpful complement to elected delegates. Political parties are private organization, and it is perfectly appropriate for party leaders to have a larger say in determining the party’s presidential candidate, even if that say has more limited democratic legitimacy.
The conservative movement also needs to take a hard look at those in the conservative entertainment establishment who have spent years whipping the GOP base into a fury. If those with large megaphones are behaving irresponsibly — say, by arguing that Republicans leaders in Congress are the real enemy because they failed to get President Obama to repeal Obamacare — then other influential conservative leaders need to do more than privately complain about them behind closed doors and publicly look the other way. What more could they do? I’m honestly not sure, but it’s worth discussing.
Bottom line: It’s time for the right to take a hard look at everything: policy, institutions, nominating processes, media, troublemakers, and more. It’s time to look at what’s broken, and to fix it. The fruit of brokenness is Trump — we don’t want anything like him to happen again.
It’s time for reform.