The Corner

Politics & Policy

Some Questions about What Republicans Who Endorse Trump Are Thinking

I never write about politics, mostly because I don’t know enough and it’s not my job. But I do have a lot of questions at this point, which I hope someone can answer.

Donald Trump is the presumptive nominee for the Republican party. So much so that one after another Senate and House Republicans are falling in line behind him. I suspect, and I hope I am not wrong, that the reason behind much of this support is pure politics and the feeling that there is no other choice. 

In fact, after Speaker Ryan announced he would vote for Trump in November, which I assume should be read as the weakest form of endorsement (who really knows in the secrecy of the voting booth what anyone will do), but an endorsement nonetheless, many people told me that “he doesn’t have a choice.” What does it mean, “He doesn’t have a choice?” Why wouldn’t he have a choice? What’s the fear? Is it just that it is expected of the speaker of the House to endorse the Republican nominee no matter who that nominee is or what his policy positions are on, say, entitlement reform? What would the consequences be of not endorsing Trump as the speaker of the House? Are the consequences specific to one’s career in politics or would they affect the whole House or the party itself?

Considering how damaging the move is to Ryan’s credibility and reputation, as the Washington Examiner’s Phil Klein explains, I am tempted to believe that it may be the case that the speaker feels that the cost of not endorsing exceeds the benefits. But is that really true? I would like to understand what these costs and benefits are. Also, are these costs and benefits for Ryan or costs and benefits for the country, the party, the future of freedom? Ryan is known to ultimately always fall in line with what leadership wants, even when it goes against his free-market principles. And I am not sure if it is because he believes that the best way to achieve policy reforms is to have Republicans stay in power and that requires him to compromise on many things (if that’s the case, he is wrong, because all we have gotten is compromise and no reforms), or whether it is simply because that’s what he does to stay in power. Which one is it here?

Finally, when is it important to come out against someone in your party, even the presumptive nominee, simply as a matter of principle, no matter what the personal consequences or the consequences to your party’s majority may be? That’s what I was really wondering while reading this New York Times article about Trump and the threats to the rule of law if he were to be elected president.

The article does a good job at collecting many quotes from conservative and libertarian scholars who believe that “Mr. Trump is a recipe for a constitutional crisis.” Here are a few:

“Who knows what Donald Trump with a pen and phone would do?” asked Ilya Shapiro, a lawyer with the libertarian Cato Institute. . . .

“This is how authoritarianism starts, with a president who does not respect the judiciary,” Mr. Post said. “You can criticize the judicial system, you can criticize individual cases, you can criticize individual judges. But the president has to be clear that the law is the law and that he enforces the law. That is his constitutional obligation.”

“If he is signaling that that is not his position, that’s a very serious constitutional problem,” Mr. Post said. . . .

Beyond the attack on judicial independence is a broader question of Mr. Trump’s commitment to the separation of powers and to the principles of federalism enshrined in the Constitution. Randy E. Barnett, a law professor at Georgetown and an architect of the first major challenge to President Obama’s health care law, said he had grave doubts on both fronts.

“You would like a president with some idea about constitutional limits on presidential powers, on congressional powers, on federal powers,” Professor Barnett said, “and I doubt he has any awareness of such limits.” . . .

“I don’t think he cares about separation of powers at all,” said Richard Epstein, a fellow at the Hoover Institution who also teaches at New York University and the University of Chicago.

President George W. Bush “often went beyond what he should have done,” Professor Epstein said. “I think Obama’s been much worse on that issue pretty consistently, and his underlings have been even more so. But I think Trump doesn’t even think there’s an issue to worry about. He just simply says whatever I want to do I will do.” . . .

On the other hand, said Ilya Somin, a law professor at George Mason University, Mr. Trump’s comments betrayed a troubling disregard for free expression.

“There are very few serious constitutional thinkers who believe public figures should be able to use libel as indiscriminately as Trump seems to think they should,” Professor Somin said. “He poses a serious threat to the press and the First Amendment.”

You should read the whole thing. These quotes are direct reactions to some of Trump’s scarier statements

Now, if those in Congress believe that these fears are real, when is it worth risking the consequences of not falling in line during this election cycle? Or is it that those who are falling in line believe that 1) Trump doesn’t really believe what he says and hence, the fears are overblown or 2) that once in power, Trump won’t be able to do what he wants either because Congress or our institutions will stop him or because he will suddenly decide to respect the rule of law in spite of what he has signaled on the campaign trail? 

How much can our institutions or Congress control President Trump if he decides to loosen libel laws or decides to ban Muslims from entering the country?

Any responses to these questions would be greatly appreciated. Thank you. 

Veronique de Rugy is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

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