As the election of 2008 approached, America was in crisis. And as we would soon learn, that crisis would not go to waste. Years after Bill Clinton disingenuously claimed that the era of big government was over, Obama won his party’s nomination by promising its furious revenge.
For constitutional conservatives, the Republican contest functioned less like a primary and more like an abandonment. Politically orphaned by their party, conservatives were forced to either stay home or hold their noses and vote for a progressive Republican.
There was a silver lining, however. Rising out of the ashes of that electoral defeat came the Tea Party. The media struggled to explain it away as racist, xenophobic, and jingoistic. But the truth is, the Tea Party did not arise because Barack Obama defeated his opposition. It arose because there was no opposition.
Over the years, there have been endless fractures in the façade of individual freedom, but three policies provided the fuel that lit the tea-party fire: the stimulus, the auto bailouts, and the bank bailouts.
Barack Obama supported all three. So did Donald Trump.
While conservatives fought against the stimulus, Donald Trump said it was “what we need,” praising Obama’s schemes of “building infrastructure, building great projects, putting people to work in that sense.”
While conservatives fought against the auto bailouts, Donald Trump claimed “the government should stand behind [the auto companies] 100 percent” because “they make wonderful products.”
While conservatives fought against the bank bailouts, Donald Trump called them “something that has to get done.” Let his reasoning sink in for a second: The government “can take over companies, and, frankly, take big chunks of companies.”
When conservatives desperately needed allies in the fight against big government, Donald Trump didn’t stand on the sidelines. He consistently advocated that your money be spent, that your government grow, and that your Constitution be ignored.
Sure, Trump’s potential primary victory would provide Hillary Clinton with the easiest imaginable path to the White House. But it’s far worse than that. If Donald Trump wins the Republican nomination, there will once again be no opposition to an ever-expanding government.
This is a crisis for conservatism. And, once again, this crisis will not go to waste.
— Glenn Beck is a nationally syndicated radio host, the founder of TheBlaze, and a best-selling author.
A lot of Americans think it would be better to have a businessman than a politician as president, and I sympathize with them. Alas, the only businessmen crazy enough to run for president seem to be, well, crazy. At least Ross Perot kept his craziness confined mostly to private matters, such as the looming disruption of his daughter’s wedding. Donald Trump puts it front and center.
From a libertarian point of view — and I think serious conservatives and liberals would share this view — Trump’s greatest offenses against American tradition and our founding principles are his nativism and his promise of one-man rule.
Not since George Wallace has there been a presidential candidate who made racial and religious scapegoating so central to his campaign. Trump launched his campaign talking about Mexican rapists and has gone on to rant about mass deportation, bans on Muslim immigration, shutting down mosques, and building a wall around America. America is an exceptional nation in large part because we’ve aspired to rise above such prejudices and guarantee life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to everyone.
Equally troubling is his idea of the presidency — his promise that he’s the guy, the man on a white horse, who can ride into Washington, fire the stupid people, hire the best people, and fix everything. He doesn’t talk about policy or working with Congress. He’s effectively vowing to be an American Mussolini, concentrating power in the Trump White House and governing by fiat. It’s a vision to make the last 16 years of executive abuse of power seem modest.
Without even getting into his past support for a massive wealth tax and single-payer health care, his know-nothing protectionism, or his passionate defense of eminent domain, I think we can say that this is a Republican campaign that would have appalled Buckley, Goldwater, and Reagan.
— David Boaz is the executive vice president of the Cato Institute and the author of The Libertarian Mind.
L. BRENT BOZELL III
Longtime conservative leader Richard Viguerie has a simple test for credentialing a conservative: Does he walk with us?
For the simple reason that he cannot win without conservatives’ support, virtually every Republican presenting himself to voters swears so-help-me-God that he is a conservative. Many of these politicians are calculating, cynical charlatans, running as one thing only to govern in a completely different direction. See: McConnell, McCain, Hatch, Boehner, et al. And for decades it’s worked. Conservatives look at the alternatives — Reid, Pelosi, Obama, Clinton, et al. — and bite the bullet. We so often “win” — only for nothing to come of it.
The GOP base is clearly disgusted and looking for new leadership. Enter Donald Trump, not just with policy prescriptions that challenge the cynical GOP leadership but with an attitude of disdain for that leadership — precisely in line with the sentiment of the base. Many conservatives are relishing this, but ah, the rub. Trump might be the greatest charlatan of them all.
A real conservative walks with us. Ronald Reagan read National Review and Human Events for intellectual sustenance; spoke annually to the Conservative Political Action Conference, Young Americans for Freedom, and other organizations to rally the troops; supported Barry Goldwater when the GOP mainstream turned its back on him; raised money for countless conservative groups; wrote hundreds of op-eds; and delivered even more speeches, everywhere championing our cause. Until he decided to run for the GOP nomination a few months ago, Trump had done none of these things, perhaps because he was too distracted publicly raising money for liberals such as the Clintons; championing Planned Parenthood, tax increases, and single-payer health coverage; and demonstrating his allegiance to the Democratic party.
We conservatives should support the one candidate who walks with us.
— L. Brent Bozell III is the chairman of ForAmerica and the president of the Media Research Center. He has endorsed Ted Cruz for president.
In December, Public Policy Polling found that 36 percent of Republican voters for whom choosing the candidate “most conservative on the issues” was the top priority said they supported Donald Trump. We can talk about whether he is a boor (“My fingers are long and beautiful, as, it has been well documented, are various other parts of my body”), a creep (“If Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her”), or a louse (he tried to bully an elderly woman, Vera Coking, out of her house in Atlantic City because it stood on a spot he wanted to use as a garage). But one thing about which there can be no debate is that Trump is no conservative — he’s simply playing one in the primaries. Call it unreality TV.
Put aside for a moment Trump’s countless past departures from conservative principle on defense, racial quotas, abortion, taxes, single-payer health care, and immigration. (That’s right: In 2012, he derided Mitt Romney for being too aggressive on the question, and he’s made extensive use of illegal-immigrant labor in his serially bankrupt businesses.) The man has demonstrated an emotional immaturity bordering on personality disorder, and it ought to disqualify him from being a mayor, to say nothing of a commander-in-chief.
Trump has made a career out of egotism, while conservatism implies a certain modesty about government. The two cannot mix.
Who, except a pitifully insecure person, needs constantly to insult and belittle others, including, or perhaps especially, women? Where is the center of gravity in a man who in May denounces those who “needlessly provoke” Muslims and in December proposes that we (“temporarily”) close our borders to all non-resident Muslims? If you don’t like a Trump position, you need only wait a few months, or sometimes days. In September, he advised that we “let Russia fight ISIS.” In November, after the Paris massacre, he discovered that “we’re going to have to knock them out and knock them out hard.” A pinball is more predictable.
Is Trump a liberal? Who knows? He played one for decades — donating to liberal causes and politicians (including Al Sharpton) and inviting Hillary Clinton to his (third) wedding. Maybe it was all a game, but voters who care about conservative ideas and principles must ask whether his recent impersonation of a conservative is just another role he’s playing. When a con man swindles you, you can sue — as many embittered former Trump associates who thought themselves ill used have done. When you elect a con man, there’s no recourse.
— Mona Charen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.
The case for constitutional limited government is the case against Donald Trump. To the degree we take him at his word — understanding that Trump is a negotiator whose positions are often purposefully deceptive — what he advocates is a rejection of our Madisonian inheritance and an embrace of Barack Obama’s authoritarianism.
Trump assures voters that he will use authoritarian power for good, to help those who feel — with good reason — ignored by both parties. But the American experiment in self-government was the work of a generation that risked all to defeat a tyrannical monarch and establish a government of laws, not men. A government of the people, by the people, and for the people is precisely what the Constitution offers, and what is most threatened by “great men” impatient to impose their will on the nation.
Conservatives should reject Trump’s hollow, Euro-style identity politics. But conservatives have far more to learn from his campaign than many might like to admit. The Trump voter is moderate, disaffected, with patriotic instincts. He feels disconnected from the GOP and other broken public institutions, left behind by a national political elite that no longer believes he matters.
Trump’s current popularity reveals something good. President Obama’s core domestic-policy agenda was designed to pull working- and middle-class voters left. It assumed that once they received the government’s redistributive largesse, they would be invested in maintaining it — and maintaining the Left in power. Trump’s rise bespeaks the utter failure of this program for the American working class: They have seen the Left’s agenda up close and do not believe it is good enough to make a nation great.
In order to build a governing majority, conservatives do not need Trump’s message or agenda, but they urgently need his supporters. Trump proves that these disaffected Americans can be won by those who respect the pro-American Jacksonian spine that runs through the electorate. The challenge now is for conservatives to give these voters the respect they deserve.
— Ben Domenech is the publisher of the Federalist.
I would vote for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. Many of the Republicans who have declared that they would never vote for Trump gave carte blanche to politicians who have been complicit in the growth of the government leviathan. These Republicans have ignored conservatism in the name of party politics, and their broken promises gave rise to Donald Trump’s candidacy.
Nonetheless, I will not be voting for Donald Trump in the primary. I take my conservatism seriously, and I also take Saint Paul seriously. In setting out the qualifications for overseers, or bishops, Saint Paul admonished Timothy, “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, . . . he must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil” (I Timothy 3:1, 3:6).
I think this is also true of political leaders, including those within the conservative movement. In October 2011, when many of the other Republican candidates were fighting Barack Obama, Donald Trump told Sean Hannity, “I was [Obama’s] biggest cheerleader.” Trump donated to both the Clinton Foundation and Hillary Clinton’s Senate campaign, as well to Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer, and other Democrats. In 2011, according to the website OpenSecrets.org, “the largest recipient [of Donald Trump’s political spending] has been the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee with $116,000.”
In a 60 Minutes interview with Scott Pelley, Trump aggressively supported universal health care, saying, “This is an un-Republican thing for me to say. . . . I’m going to take care of everybody. . . . The government’s going to pay for it.” He supported the prosecution of hate crimes. He favored wealth-confiscation policies. He supported abortion rights. On all these things, Donald Trump now says he has changed his mind. Like the angels in heaven who rejoice for every new believer, we should rejoice for Donald Trump’s conversion to conservatism.
But we should not put a new conservative in charge of conservatism or the country, so that he does not become puffed up with conceit and fall into condemnation. Republicans have wandered in the wilderness already by letting leaders define conservatism in their own image. Donald Trump needs more time and more testing of his new conservative convictions.
— Erick Erickson is the editor of The Resurgent and an Atlanta-based talk-radio host.
STEVEN F. HAYWARD
After Obama — after three generations of liberalism only slightly interrupted by the Reagan years — the conservative president we desperately need requires a paradoxical combination of boldness and restraint. The president will need to be bold in challenging the runaway power and reach of his own branch, against the fury of the bureaucracy itself, its client groups, and the media. This boldness is necessary to restore the restraint that a republican executive should have in our constitutional order.
Trump exhibits no awareness of this supreme constitutional task. His facially worthy challenge to political correctness is not a sufficient governing platform. Worse, his inclination to understand our problems as being managerial rather than political suggests he might well set back the conservative cause if he is elected, if not make the problems of runaway executive power even worse. Restraint is clearly not in his vocabulary or his character.
— Steven F. Hayward is the Ronald Reagan Distinguished Visiting Professor at Pepperdine University.
A diet, caffeine-free Marxist (really, the only thing wrong with being a Marxist is being a Marxist); a driven, leftist crook; and an explosive, know-nothing demagogue — all are competing to see who can be even more like Mussolini than is Obama. But in the caudillo department, surpassing even our own Evita, the Donald wins.
Forget hair like the tinsel on discarded Christmas trees. Forget the long-term connections to New York politichiens, into which scores of opposition researchers and Pulitzer-seeking media moles are undoubtedly tunneling at this very moment. Forget his former wife’s claim that he kept a book of Hitler’s speeches at his bedside. Forget even his raging egomania, matched only by Obama’s, which the president sometimes tries to conceal beneath a laughably transparent gossamer of false modesty.
And forget trying to determine whether he’s a conservative. Given that, at the suggestion of Bill Clinton, he has like a tapeworm invaded the schismatically weakened body of the Republican party, it’s a pointless question, because, like Allah in Islamic theology, he is whatever he pleases to be at the moment, the only principle being the triumph of his will.
All such things, except (maybe) his hair, are disqualifications for high office, but two fundamental portents of disaster usually pass unnoticed: Like Obama, he is astoundingly ignorant of everything that to govern a powerful, complex, influential, and exceptional nation such as ours he would have to know.
I recall that 30 or more years ago he said he could master the politics of the Cold War, nuclear strategy, and arms control in two weeks, the proof being that he had fixed the Wollman ice-skating rink. Evidently he didn’t spare the time, revealing in debate that he was clueless about the nuclear triad — something that could be rather dangerous if the person always at his side with the briefcase of nuclear codes cuffed to his wrist were not a stolid military officer but Britney Spears or Ozzy Osbourne (and don’t count that out).
He doesn’t know the Constitution, history, law, political philosophy, nuclear strategy, diplomacy, defense, economics beyond real estate, or even, despite his low-level-mafioso comportment, how ordinary people live. But trumping all this is a greater flaw presented as his chief strength. Governing a great nation in parlous times is far more than making “deals.” Compared with the weight of the office he seeks, his deals are microscopic in scale, and as he faced far deeper complexities he would lead the country into continual Russian roulette. If despite his poor judgment he could engage talented advisers, as they presented him with contending and fateful options the buck would stop with a man who simply grasps anything that floats by. Following Obama’s, a Trump presidency would be yet more adventure tourism for a formerly serious republic.
— Mark Helprin is a celebrated novelist. Among his best-known works are Winter’s Tale and A Soldier of the Great War.
Let us, as conservatives, seek guidance from those we admire.
The Federalist (No. 39) speaks of “that honorable determination which animates every votary of freedom to rest all our political experiments on the capacity of mankind for self-government.” Hasn’t Donald Trump been a votary merely of wealth rather than of freedom? Hasn’t he been animated by the art of the deal rather than by the art of self-government?
William F. Buckley Jr. proclaimed, in the founding statement of this journal, that conservatism “stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.” Hasn’t Donald Trump always been a man inclined to go along — indeed, impatient to get along — with history?
In a letter to National Review, Leo Strauss wrote that “a conservative, I take it, is a man who despises vulgarity; but the argument which is concerned exclusively with calculations of success, and is based on blindness to the nobility of the effort, is vulgar.” Isn’t Donald Trump the very epitome of vulgarity?
In sum: Isn’t Trumpism a two-bit Caesarism of a kind that American conservatives have always disdained? Isn’t the task of conservatives today to stand athwart Trumpism, yelling Stop?
— William Kristol is the editor of The Weekly Standard.
Donald Trump is no conservative. That’s not a crime, it’s just a reason to vote against him. Many fine people are not conservatives. But the reason Trump’s candidacy should worry the Right runs much deeper than that: He poses a direct challenge to conservatism, because he embodies the empty promise of managerial leadership outside of politics.
Trump’s diagnoses of our key problems — first and foremost, that America’s elites are weak and unwilling to put the interests of Americans first — have gained him a hearing from many on the right. But when he gestures toward prescriptions, Trump reveals that even his diagnoses are not as sound as they might seem.
Conservatives incline to take the weakness of our elite institutions as an argument for recovering constitutional principles — and so for limiting the power of those institutions, reversing their centralization of authority, and recovering a vision of American life in which the chief purpose of the federal government is protective and not managerial.
Trump, on the contrary, offers himself as the alternative to our weak and foolish leaders, the guarantee of American superiority, and the cure for all that ails our society; and when pressed about how he will succeed in these ways, his answer pretty much amounts to: “great management.”
The appeal of Trump’s diagnoses should be instructive to conservatives. But the shallow narcissism of his prescriptions is a warning. American conservatism is an inherently skeptical political outlook. It assumes that no one can be fully trusted with public power and that self-government in a free society demands that we reject the siren song of politics-as-management.
A shortage of such skepticism is how we ended up with the problems Trump so bluntly laments. Repeating that mistake is no way to solve these problems. To address them, we need to begin by rejecting what Trump stands for, as much as what he stands against.
— Yuval Levin, a contributing editor of National Review, is the editor of National Affairs.
I’ve fought progressivism for a long time. Before 2008, I crashed progressive protests using “Protest Warrior” signs. After 2008, I was on that fateful inaugural call to organize the first modern-day tea parties around the country. I stood on sidewalks with placards, phone-banked, went door to door, and traveled at my own expense to evangelize liberty and fire people up. For disagreeing about matters of public policy, we were called racists and bigots, and conservative women were accused of betraying their sex. Dissent used to be “patriotic” — until the Obama administration used its alphabet agencies to persecute groups such as True the Vote and deny conservative organizations nonprofit status. Lately, dissent on the right is regarded as treasonous.
I know Donald Trump. He’s been a frequent guest on my radio and television programs, and I introduced him at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2015. He has always been amiable and complimentary. I genuinely like him.
But not as my presidential pick.
I love conversion stories. I have my own, from when I became a conservative 15 years ago. But I’m not running for president. Donald Trump is. And his “conversion” raises serious questions. Trump wrote in his book The America We Deserve that he supported a ban on “assault weapons.” Not until last year did he apparently reverse his position. As recently as a couple of years ago, Trump favored the liberal use of eminent-domain laws. He said that the ability of the government to wrest private property from citizens served “the greater good.” Is that suddenly a conservative principle?
Why is there a double standard when it comes to evaluating Donald Trump? Why are other politicians excoriated when they change their minds — as, for example, Rick Perry did on the question of whether HPV vaccinations in Texas should be compulsory — but when Trump suddenly says he’s pro-life, the claim is accepted uncritically? Why is it unconscionable for Ted Cruz to take and repay a loan from Goldman Sachs to help win a tough Senate race but acceptable for Donald Trump to take money from George Soros? Why is vetting Trump, as we do any other candidate, considered “bashing”? Aren’t these fair questions?
Just a few years ago, I, along with many others, was receiving threats for promoting conservative policies and conservative principles — neither of which Donald Trump seems to care about. Yet he’s leading.
Popularity over principle — is this the new Right?
— Dana Loesch is the host of a nationally syndicated radio program and of Dana on TheBlaze. She also appears regularly on Fox News. Her second book, Flyover Nation, will be published this spring.
ANDREW C. McCARTHY
The presidency’s most crucial duty is the protection of American national security. Yet, interviewed by Hugh Hewitt months into his campaign, Donald Trump did not know the key leaders of the global jihad. The man who would be commander-in-chief was unfamiliar with Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader who has been murdering Americans for over 30 years; Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s longtime deputy who has quite notoriously commanded al-Qaeda since the network’s leader was killed by U.S. forces in 2011; and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, self-proclaimed caliph of the Islamic State (ISIS) and a jihadist so globally notorious that many teenagers are aware of him.
Of course a man who wants to be president should make it his business to know such things. But even the casual fan who does not know the players without a scorecard at least knows who the teams are and why they are competing. Trump failed even that basic test, confusing the Kurds (a minority ethnic group beleaguered by ISIS) with the Quds Force (the elite operatives of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps).
The global jihad is complex, comprising terrorist organizations and abettors that include rogue nations and other shady accomplices. Their fluid alliances and internecine rivalries often defy the Sunni–Shiite divide. Matters are complicated further still by ideological allies such as the Muslim Brotherhood that feign moderation while supporting the jihadist agenda. The threat is openly aggressive on its own turf but operates by stealth in the West. A president may not have to be good with names to oppose it effectively, but he has to grasp the animating ideology, the power relations, and the goals of the players — and how weakening one by strengthening another can degrade rather than promote our security.
Donald Trump does not have a clue about any of this, careening wildly from vows to stay out of the fray (leaving it in Vladimir Putin’s nefarious hands) to promises that the earth will be indiscriminately scorched. The threat against us has metastasized in our eighth year under a president who quite consciously appeases the enemy. But the remedy is not a president oblivious of the enemy.
— Andrew C. McCarthy, a contributing editor of National Review, is a former chief assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted terrorism cases.
Donald Trump is no conservative. He’s a populist whose theme is: Our government is broken, and I’ll fix it.
He’s right on point one: Both parties have failed to lead. Obama and congressional Democrats manipulate the levers of power to push America farther toward European socialism; Republicans promise free-market alternatives but end up caving in to pressure or carrying water for the GOP’s own big-government special interests.
The American people have signaled in recent elections that they’ve had enough of business as usual, and now they want to clean house. Yet Trump is no better than what we already have. He’ll say anything to get a vote but give us more of the same if he gets into office.
Trump beguiles us, defies the politically correct media, and bullies anyone who points out that the emperor has no clothes. None of that makes him a conservative who cherishes liberty.
For decades, Trump has argued for big government. About health care he has said: “Everybody’s got to be covered” and “The government’s going to pay for it.” He has called for boycotts of American companies he doesn’t like, told bureaucrats to use eminent domain to get him better deals on property he wanted to develop, and proudly proposed the largest tax increase in American history. Trump has also promised to use tariffs to punish companies that incur his disfavor. He offers grand plans for massive new spending but no serious proposals for spending cuts or entitlement reforms.
These are not the ideas of a small-government conservative who understands markets. They are, instead, the ramblings of a liberal wannabe strongman who will use and abuse the power of the federal government to impose his ideas on the country.
My old boss, Ronald Reagan, once said, “The Founding Fathers knew a government can’t control the economy without controlling people.” Reagan fought for economic freedom, for reining in government so the private sector could thrive. That’s economic conservatism. It is not Donald Trump.
— David McIntosh is the president of the Club for Growth.
Which dictionary definition of the word “conservative,” as either an adjective or a noun, applies comfortably to Donald Trump?
Is he “traditional in style or manner; avoiding novelty or showiness”? (Please stifle your laughter.)
Does he count as “cautiously moderate”?
Would he describe himself as an individual who is “disposed to preserve existing conditions and institutions, or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change”?
Trump’s defenders insist that his flashy, shameless, non-conservative style will help win support for his views, which are, they say, substantively conservative. But where, exactly, do we find the conservative substance?
His much-heralded hard line on immigration discards pragmatic reform policies favored by the two most popular conservatives of the last half century, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. Building a yuuuuge wall along the southern border hardly qualifies as a “cautiously moderate” approach, nor would uprooting 11 million current residents (and, presumably, millions more of their American-citizen children and spouses) in the greatest forced migration in human history.
Worst of all, Trump’s brawling, blustery, mean-spirited public persona serves to associate conservatives with all the negative stereotypes that liberals have for decades attached to their opponents on the right. According to conventional caricature, conservatives are selfish, greedy, materialistic, bullying, misogynistic, angry, and intolerant. They are, we’re told, privileged and pampered elitists who revel in the advantages of inherited wealth while displaying only cruel contempt for the less fortunate and the less powerful. The Left tried to smear Ronald Reagan in such terms but failed miserably because he displayed none of the stereotypical traits. In contrast, Trump is the living, breathing, bellowing personification of all the nasty characteristics Democrats routinely ascribe to Republicans.
And then there’s the uncomfortable, unavoidable issue of racism. Even those who take Trump at his word — accepting his declaration that he qualifies as the least racist individual in the nation — can imagine the parade of negative ads the Democrats are already preparing for radio stations with mainly black audiences and for Spanish-language television. Even if Trump won a crushing majority of self-described white voters, he could hardly improve on Romney’s landslide victory — 59 percent to 39 percent — in that demographic group.
If Trump becomes the nominee, the GOP is sure to lose the 2016 election. But the problem is much larger: Will the Republican party and the conservative movement survive? If Asians and Latinos come to reject Republican candidates as automatically and overwhelmingly as African Americans do, the party will lose all chance of capturing the presidency, and, inevitably, it will face the disappearance of its congressional and gubernatorial majorities as well. There is one sure strategy to pursue if the GOP for some reason wishes to suffer such self-inflicted wounds: nominate a presidential candidate who exemplifies the most unpleasant, and non-conservative, characteristics that the mainstream media and liberal pundits invoke to demonize the Right.
— Michael Medved hosts a daily radio talk show heard on more than 300 stations across the country.
EDWIN MEESE III
There are two tactical approaches for candidates seeking their party’s nomination in election campaigns. One is to strongly debate the issues and firmly advocate your positions, but to avoid personal attacks on your opponents or needless divisiveness. The other is to vigorously attack your fellow candidates, disparaging them personally and seeking to raise yourself up by dragging them down.
Ronald Reagan was famous for epitomizing the former path. Donald Trump, unfortunately, has chosen to follow the latter course.
When Reagan first ran for governor of California, in 1966, his party was deeply divided by past electoral conflicts. To restore unity, he adopted a new political rule, which had been proposed by the party chairman: the Eleventh Commandment, “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” The goal was to avoid internecine warfare during the primary, which could lead to defeat in the general election.
While contending for the nomination, Reagan showed respect for his primary opponent and even left open places in his campaign organization so that he could eventually include those party leaders who had initially opposed him. The resulting coalition won the general election by an overwhelming margin. Reagan kept the Eleventh Commandment in his subsequent contests for the presidency, and it was a unifying factor in his victories in the 1980s.
At the beginning of the current campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, it appeared that the party had one of the strongest arrays of candidates in many years — successful governors, senators, business and professional leaders, etc. Today, however, the political atmosphere is polluted by the vicious personal attacks that the Republican contenders have unleashed against one another.
Heading the attackers, in both vigor and vitriol, has been Donald Trump. His broadsides can almost be predicted by the other candidates’ standing in the polls. The result has been to divide and discourage potential Republican-party supporters.
Questionable assertions that an opponent is not eligible to run, or that another cannot be elected, or that still another lacks enthusiasm or energy, are a poor substitute for addressing the real issues that should be the basis for a positive campaign: restoring economic growth, strengthening national security, eliminating cronyism and corruption, and improving the lives of all Americans.
At a time when the nation is suffering under one of the most divisive and incompetent presidents in history, our people need positive, unifying leadership, not negative, destructive political rhetoric.
— Edwin Meese III served in Ronald Reagan’s gubernatorial and presidential administrations. These views are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of any organization with which he is affiliated.
In 2009, the Manhattan Declaration, led by Chuck Colson and Robert P. George, reaffirmed the three primary goals of religious conservatives: to protect all human life, including that of the unborn; to reinforce the sanctity of marriage and the family; and to conserve the religious freedom of all persons. All three goals would be in jeopardy under a Trump presidency.
Yes, Trump says that he is pro-life now, despite having supported partial-birth abortion in the past. The problem is not whether he can check a box. Pro-life voters expect leaders to have a coherent vision of human dignity and to be able to defend against assaults on human life in the future — some of which may be unimaginable today and will present themselves only as new technologies develop.
Trump’s supposed pro-life conversion is rooted in Nietzschean, social-Darwinist terms. He knew a child who was to be aborted who grew up to be a “superstar.” Beyond that, Trump’s vitriolic — and often racist and sexist — language about immigrants, women, the disabled, and others ought to concern anyone who believes that all persons, not just the “winners” of the moment, are created in God’s image.
One also cannot help but look at the personal life of the billionaire. It is not just that he has abandoned one wife after another for a younger woman, or that he has boasted about having sex with some of the “top women of the world.” It’s that he says, after all that, that he has no need to seek forgiveness.
At the same time, Trump has made millions off a casino industry that, as social conservatives have rightly argued, not only exploits personal vice but destroys families.
One may say that Trump’s personal life and business dealings are irrelevant to his candidacy, but conservatives have argued for generations that virtue matters, in the citizenry and in the nation’s leaders. Can conservatives really believe that, if elected, Trump would care about protecting the family’s place in society when his own life is — unapologetically — what conservatives used to recognize as decadent?
Under withering assault in the Obama years, social conservatives have maintained, consistent with the beliefs of the Founders, that religious freedom is a natural right, not a matter of special pleading to be submitted to majority vote. Most Americans do not agree with the Little Sisters of the Poor on contraception, and the sisters do not have a powerful lobby in Washington. This shouldn’t matter. Trump’s willingness to ban Muslims, even temporarily, from entering the country simply because of their religious affiliation would make Jefferson spin in his grave.
Trump can win only in the sort of celebrity-focused mobocracy that Neil Postman warned us about years ago, in which sound moral judgments are displaced by a narcissistic pursuit of power combined with promises of “winning” for the masses. Social and religious conservatives have always seen this tendency as decadent and deviant. For them to view it any other way now would be for them to lose their soul.
— Russell Moore is the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and the author of Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel.
MICHAEL B. MUKASEY
For a hint of why a Donald Trump presidency would imperil our national security, consider just a couple of Trump’s suggestions for protecting us against Islamist terrorists.
He would start with a “temporary” ban on the entry of alien Muslims into the United States until “our leaders can figure out what the hell is going on.” This prescription overlooks that many people already have figured out precisely “what the hell is going on” — that we face a supremacist movement based in Islam that is intent on destroying Western civilization — and have intelligent suggestions for dealing with it. Moreover, Trump’s proposal would assure the enmity of all Muslims, including those whose support we need if we are to prevail.
Even assuming an infallible way to identify who is Muslim, the proposal is both under- and over-inclusive. It is under-inclusive because it does not address potential terrorists who have U.S. passports or residence permits, or are already here, or may threaten us abroad; it is over-inclusive because it bars the huge majority of Muslims who are not potential terrorists.
Trump says he would order the military to kill the families of terrorists. That would be a direct violation of the most basic laws of armed conflict, which require that deadly force be used only when required by military necessity, under circumstances that allow distinction between military and civilian targets, and when incidental damage to non-military targets is proportional to the military advantage gained. A military that adhered to the laws of armed conflict would necessarily disobey such an order; if it followed the order, both the person who gave it and those who followed it would be subject to prosecution for war crimes.
We have already suffered seven years of feckless leadership that has invited the contempt of our enemies and the distrust of our friends. We remain the world’s strongest power and can recover; but to inspire the respect that creates fear and trust when and where each is necessary, we will need a president who summons our strength with a reality-based strategic vision, not one who summons applause with tantrums and homicidal fantasies.
— Michael B. Mukasey served as U.S. attorney general from 2007 to 2009 and as a U.S. district judge from 1988 to 2006. He has advised the Jeb Bush campaign on national-security issues.
Given the high stakes both at home and abroad, America cannot afford to elect a man who is not rooted in conservatism. And Donald Trump, a political con man who sympathizes with hit man Vladimir Putin and “Republicans” such as Charlie Crist, manifestly is not.
Trump has made a living out of preying on and bullying society’s most vulnerable, with the help of government. He isn’t an outsider, but rather an unelected politician of the worst kind. He admits that he’s bought off elected officials in order to get his way and that he has openly abused the system.
The rabid defense he gets from some quarters is astonishing. Trump’s liberal positions aren’t in the distant past — he has openly promoted them on the campaign trail. Trump isn’t fighting for anyone but himself, which has been his pattern for decades.
Conservatives have a serious decision to make. Do we truly believe in our long-held principles and insist that politicians have records demonstrating fealty to them? Or are we willing to throw these principles away because an entertainer who has been a liberal Democrat for decades simply says some of the right things?
In short, do our principles still matter? A vote for Trump indicates the answer is “No.”
— Katie Pavlich is the editor of Townhall and a best-selling author.
Donald Trump is the apotheosis of a tendency that began to manifest itself in American culture in the 1980s, most notably in the persons of the comic Andrew Dice Clay and the shock jock Howard Stern: the American id. Guys like the Dice Man and Stern had been told and taught and trained by respectable middlebrow culture to believe that their tastes and desires were piggish and thuggish and gross, and they said: So be it! Clay filled stadiums across the country with young men who chanted dirty nursery rhymes along with him. Stern invited young actresses onto his show to discuss their breasts. The screams of outrage that greeted them were part of the act.
Clay had nowhere to go with his shtick after a few years and faded away. Stern adapted to changing circumstances. But the American id remained, as ids do. You want to call me a goon? Fine, so I’ll act like a goon, see how you like it. The cultural signposts Trump brandished in the years preceding his presidential bid are all manifestations of the American id — his steak business, his casino business, his green-marble-and-chrome architecture, his love life minutely detailed in the columns of Cindy Adams, his involvement with Vince McMahon’s wrestling empire, and his reality-TV persona as the immensely rich guy who treats people like garbage but has no fancy airs. This id found its truest voice in his repellent assertion that the first black president needed to prove to Trump’s satisfaction that he was actually an American.
In any integrated personality, the id is supposed to be balanced by an ego and a superego — by a sense of self that gravitates toward behaving in a mature and responsible way when it comes to serious matters, and, failing that, has a sense of shame about transgressing norms and common decencies. Trump is an unbalanced force. He is the politicized American id. Should his election results match his polls, he would be, unquestionably, the worst thing to happen to the American common culture in my lifetime.
— John Podhoretz is the editor of Commentary.
R. R. RENO
Trump has always been Trump. His public pronouncements over the last few decades give no evidence of consistent or coherent political views. By comparison, Hillary Clinton is a principled public figure. He made noises about running in 2000 and was serious in 2012, but the talk went nowhere. When he declared in 2015, we laughed again.
Donald Trump? Absurd!
Boy, were we wrong.
I suppose we should have known better. The Republican party has become home to a growing number of Americans who want to burn down our political and economic systems and hang our cultural elites. They’re tired of being policed by political correctness, often with the complicity of supposed conservatives. They don’t like Republican candidates who denounce them as “takers” with no future in the global economy. And they suspect, rightly, that the Chamber of Commerce will sell them down the river if it adds to the bottom line.
All true, but it’s sad that this frustrated cohort now fixes on Trump as its savior.
He presents himself as a Strong Man who promises to knock heads and make things right again. In this, he has a lot more in common with South American populist demagogues than with our tradition of political leaders.
But I suppose that’s the reason for his popularity. The middle-class consensus in America has collapsed. This is the most important political and social earthquake since World War II. The conservative movement’s leadership isn’t up to the challenge, and a good number of voters are willing to gamble on Trump’s bluster. Bad bet. Our nation’s solidarity is being tested. It will only make things worse if we go Trumpster diving.
— R. R. Reno is the editor of First Things.
In a country with more than 300 million people, it is remarkable how obsessed the media have become with just one — Donald Trump. What is even more remarkable is that, after seven years of repeated disasters, both domestically and internationally, under a glib egomaniac in the White House, so many potential voters are turning to another glib egomaniac to be his successor.
No doubt much of the stampede of Republican voters toward Mr. Trump is based on their disgust with the Republican establishment. It is easy to understand why there would be pent-up resentments among Republican voters. But are elections held for the purpose of venting emotions?
No national leader ever aroused more fervent emotions than Adolf Hitler did in the 1930s. Watch some old newsreels of German crowds delirious with joy at the sight of him. The only things at all comparable in more recent times were the ecstatic crowds that greeted Barack Obama when he burst upon the political scene in 2008.
Elections, however, have far more lasting and far more serious — or even grim — consequences than emotional venting. The actual track record of crowd pleasers, whether Juan Perón in Argentina, Obama in America, or Hitler in Germany, is very sobering, if not painfully depressing.
After the disastrous nuclear deal with Iran, we are entering an era when people alive at this moment may live to see a day when American cities are left in radioactive ruins. We need all the wisdom, courage, and dedication in the next president — and his or her successors — to save ourselves and our children from such a catastrophe.
A shoot-from-the-hip, belligerent show-off is the last thing we need or can afford.
— Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.
I wanted to like Donald Trump, much as I wanted to like Richard Nixon’s vice president, Spiro Agnew. Both men have said many things with which I agree. Agnew attacked media bias, and Trump attacks the establishment’s failure to “make America great,” as he nonspecifically puts it. But a proper diagnosis does not equal competence in administering a cure.
If I developed a brain tumor, I would want Ben Carson to operate on me, but do I want Donald Trump “operating” on America?
Everyone has a temperament. The dictionary defines it as “the combination of mental, physical, and emotional traits of a person.” Would Trump’s “combination” make him a good president? I think not.
I once compared Trump to Lonesome Rhodes, the character played by Andy Griffith in the 1957 film A Face in the Crowd. Trump might also be compared to Elmer Gantry, the fictional evangelist who used religion to mask his dark side.
On January 13, Trump spoke to a packed convention center in Pensacola, Fla. While he made many good points — especially when it came to uncontrolled immigration — he was rambling and unfocused. He spent time criticizing his “poor-quality” microphone and said he wasn’t going to pay for it. A far cry from Ronald Reagan’s “I am paying for this microphone” line during the 1980 New Hampshire–primary campaign, which conveyed strength, not petulance.
In Pensacola, Trump again drew wild applause when he repeated his promise to build a wall along the Mexican border and make Mexico pay for it. The wall keeps getting higher as the story gets older. He never says how he will force Mexico to pay.
Anger is not policy. Trump channels a lot of the righteous (and some of the unrighteous) anger of voters and sees the solution as himself. Isn’t a narcissist what we currently have in the White House?
— Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated USA Today columnist and a Fox News contributor.