‐ We appreciate the concern, Donald, and we’ll be sure to consult with you should we ever need advice about bankruptcy.
‐ If the GOP race comes down to Trump or Cruz, the party’s leadership will support . . . Trump. Bob Dole: “You know, he’s got the right personality and he’s kind of a deal-maker.” Representative Peter King: Trump is “pragmatic enough to get something done.” Rudy Giuliani: “If it came down to Trump or Cruz, there is no question I’d vote for Trump.” Why? In part, Ted Cruz is reaping what he has sown. Since arriving in the Senate in 2013, he has attacked colleagues as timid and unprincipled; his grandest gesture in that line was publicly to call Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell a liar. However, GOP wise men err in preferring Trump. They think they can deal with him, because they believe (rightly) that he is at bottom unprincipled. But the unprincipled man is out for himself, and he can turn on you in a minute if self-interest dictates. If a feckless leadership backs Trump, they, and we, will reap the bitter harvest.
‐ At a joint appearance in Ames, Iowa, Sarah Palin endorsed Trump. Not quite eight years ago, she was a supernova. She wrapped the GOP convention that nominated her for vice president around her finger, and briefly boosted running-mate John McCain even over light-worker Barack Obama. Liberals swarmed at her. But she, alas, helped them in their work of destruction by choosing to be a niche media star rather than a politician or a serious student of issues. Personal troubles dinged her, time dimmed her luster. Now the roar of the greasepaint has drawn her back into the fray. She must think Trump is the new her, but how different they are: She was fresh, he is pure calculation; she was optimistic and quirky, he is sniggers and bluster. Sad to see her carrying spears for an oaf. But that too is a choice.
‐ One of the problems with Trump is that he is a thief, albeit a not very good one. On the eve of the Iowa caucuses, Ted Cruz ran an ad that accused Trump of attempting to use eminent domain — a “wonderful” practice in Trump’s words, under which government seizes private property — to turn a widow out of her home so that he could build a limousine garage for one of his tacky casinos on the property. Trump whined that this was “false advertising,” that he had done no such thing. Which is true: He tried, and tried, and had New Jersey authorities threaten the woman on his behalf, but, in the end, he failed, his bid for using the government to seize the widow’s home being tossed out by the courts. The lady in question described the man who would be president as “a maggot, a cockroach, and a crumb.” We are not sure about all that, but he does have defective judgment. Eminent domain is an occasionally necessary last resort used in the pursuit of genuine public goods — and a limo garage isn’t one of those. Governments have been using eminent domain simply to seize private property and hand it over to another private party, generally a politically connected one (why do you think Trump made all those donations to Chuck Schumer and Mrs. Clinton?), in the name of “economic development.” For a good look at the sort of economic development that Trump performs, drive through Atlantic City some evening. But lock your doors.
‐ When an atheist in Waverly, Iowa (yes, there are some, or at least one), taxed Marco Rubio with running for “pastor-in-chief” rather than “commander-in-chief,” Rubio began by assuring him that salvation is a “free gift” that cannot be forced on anyone. Rubio next pointed out that “Judeo-Christian values influenced America. . . . Our rights come from our Creator. If there’s no Creator then where did your rights come from?” He perorated: “I think you should hope my faith influences me” because it “teaches me that I have an obligation to care for the less fortunate. My faith teaches me that I have an obligation to love my neighbor. . . . My faith teaches me that if I want to serve Jesus, I have to serve . . . other[s]. And I think that you should hope that influences me. I know it’s made this a greater country.” Calm, earnest, well reasoned — and so unlike Campaign 2016 so far.
‐ Chris Christie says that he never gave money to Planned Parenthood, even back when he was pro-choice, contrary to a newspaper account from the 1990s that quoted him saying he had. He says he supported the Senate confirmation of Justice Sonia Sotomayor only after it had happened; actually, he issued a press release beforehand, urging it. He says he vetoed a bill banning .50-caliber rifles; and while he did veto a bill including that ban, it is a ban he called for in 2013. Any one of these comments could be explained away: a lapse of memory; a garbled report he did not have time or reason to correct. Together they suggest that one of the casualties of this campaign will be his reputation as a straight shooter.
‐ Like a character in The X-Files or some other paranoid TV series, Hillary Clinton is reliving 2008. Once again, years of effort, pots of money, and a monster campaign machine risk being upended. The first sign of trouble was her attack on Bernie Sanders for wanting to “rip [Obamacare] up and start over.” He wants to substitute single-payer, an even more statist and disruptive health-care plan, but Hillary tried to make him sound like an anarchist: not the tactic of a confident front-runner. The second sign of trouble is the sudden interest in her hefty speaking fees from Goldman Sachs and other bigfoot investment firms. Was she a president-to-be laying down the law to Wall Street, or a greedy insider catering to it? Sanders says it’s the latter: “You got to be really, really, really good to get $250,000 for a speech,” he snarked in Iowa. And the rub of it is that now Hillary is being shaken not by a historic young black man but by a cranky old socialist. If she’s struggling against Bernie Sanders, maybe she’s . . . just not very good at this.
‐ Mounting evidence suggests that then–secretary of state Clinton and her top aides used her private, unsecure e-mail system to transmit hundreds of messages containing classified information, including some involving the nation’s most closely guarded intelligence secrets. FBI director James Comey acknowledges that an investigation is proceeding, and scores of agents are reportedly digging. Yet Clinton’s presidential campaign, echoed by the New York Times, claims she is not even a subject of a government investigation. This may be technically correct. For now, even if the FBI’s investigation is serious, it cannot lead to charges against anyone unless the Justice Department convenes a grand jury, which has not been done. The Obama administration seems to be walking a razor’s edge: wanting neither to be seen as obstructing the FBI, nor as signaling that the Democrats’ putative front-runner may be guilty of weighty offenses. But the time is coming, probably soon, when Comey — who was a highly regarded prosecutor with a reputation for nonpartisan law enforcement — may well recommend Clinton’s indictment. Ostensibly, the decision will rest with Attorney General Loretta Lynch. In reality, it will be Obama’s call, and the politics will matter more than the law.
‐ The Benghazi attacks have been given the Hollywood treatment. In Michael Bay’s new movie, 13 Hours, moviegoers are shown the extraordinary sacrifices that a handful of American soldiers made in September 2012. The film is not partisan — there are no references to political parties, contemporary presidential candidates, or real-life bureaucrats — but there is no doubt as to what its makers think of the government’s record. Time and time again, the protagonists are seen calling for backup that never comes, and, as a result, they are forced to take over from the frozen authorities and to stage a terrifying fightback against the odds. This is a movie that should keep Hillary Clinton up at night.
‐ On January 6, a ghost from Hillary’s past stirred: “I was 35 years old when Bill Clinton, Ark. Attorney General raped me and Hillary tried to silence me,” Juanita Broaddrick tweeted from her home in Van Buren, Ark. “I am now 73. . . . It never goes away.” In the catalogue of accusations against Bill Clinton, Broaddrick’s is not only the most serious but the one about which the Clintons have said the least. That may be because her allegation is credible — alarmingly so. In April 1978, when, she alleges, he sexually assaulted her in a Little Rock hotel room, Broaddrick was a nursing-home administrator in Van Buren and Bill Clinton was the state’s Democratic candidate for governor. Five witnesses recall Broaddrick’s telling them about the alleged assault within hours or days of its happening. Details in her account line up with details reported by other Clinton accusers. And Broaddrick’s account appears to have remained consistent across several decades, from 1978 to her now-famous 1999 interview with Dateline NBC’s Lisa Myers and beyond. But there’s more: According to Broaddrick, two weeks after the alleged assault, Hillary Clinton approached her at a Clinton campaign event and said, with an edge: “I want you to know that we appreciate everything you do for Bill.” Was the future first lady sending a message? “There was no doubt in my mind,” Broaddrick told National Review recently. “She threatened me.” If Broaddrick is telling the truth, not only did America elect a rapist to the presidency; it may be about to elect his enabler.
‐ Since 1993, each year’s federal budget has included as a matter of course a provision prohibiting federal Medicaid funds from being used to finance abortion except in cases of rape, incest, and danger to the life of the mother. This policy is a concession to the fact that eight in ten Americans agree that at some unspecified moment before birth, a fetus stops being a “clump of cells” and becomes a baby, and most people do not want Congress involved in financing its deliberate killing. Hillary Clinton is not among those people. Shortly after receiving the endorsement of Planned Parenthood, Clinton — whose idea of a “reasonable restriction” on abortion is something at “the very end of the third trimester,” she told Chuck Todd last year — called for unrestricted Medicaid funding of abortion. In other words, not only does Hillary Clinton want abortion on demand up until the moment you can shake Junior’s hand; she also wants to force taxpayers, abortion opponents included, to pay for it. Her husband used to say that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare”; perhaps she will amend the last word of that slogan to “subsidized.”
‐ Jane Mayer of The New Yorker has published a book, in an emergency subgenre of fantasy literature, titled “Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires behind the Rise of the Radical Right.” It is mainly a vituperation against Charles and David Koch, the libertarian philanthropists and political activists. Their crime? “What they’re aiming at,” she writes, “is changing the conversation in the country.” Yes, philanthropists and activists sometimes seek that, as do journalists. The problem with the Kochs is that they believe things that the likes of Jane Mayer would rather not hear spoken. It is notable that the Kochs’ most energetic critic — Harry Reid, who has repeatedly denounced them from the floor of the Senate — is also the man who recently sought to repeal the First Amendment and its protections for those who wish to “change the conversation.” Jane Mayer is a fantasist, and fantasies need villains.
‐ Flint, Mich., one of America’s most liberal cities and a longtime Democratic-party monopoly, has been poisoning its children. A Democratic mayor, a Democratic emergency manager (appointed by Republican governor Rick Snyder), a Democratic city council, and a city agency dominated by a Democrat-affiliated public-sector union got into a spat with Flint’s water supplier, in Democrat-run Detroit. The city engaged in a large, expensive public-infrastructure project of its own, using the Flint River as a temporary water source. But it lacked the requisite expertise in water treatment, with the consequence that lead and other contaminants leached from older pipes into the water. When Barack Obama’s EPA found out about this government-created disaster, it did — nothing. And yet Mrs. Clinton and Senator Sanders, along with many others, angrily aver that the episode demonstrates the failure of Republican leadership and its insistence on free-market approaches to economic problems. It seems their ability to think has been contaminated, too.
‐ Obama remains determined to shutter the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. Congress will not cooperate by transferring the roughly 91 remaining detainees to stateside federal prisons, so the president is leaning on other countries to accept them, with who knows what enticements. The deceitfulness of the project reached a new low when two dangerous terrorists were accepted by Ghana. Even Obama’s Gitmo task force rated the two Yemenis, Muhammad bin Atef and Khalid Muhammad Salih al Dhuby, as continuing threats to the U.S. and stipulated that they were suitable for transfer only if subjected to “continuing security measures,” including “conditional detention.” Yet Ghana’s foreign ministry falsely claimed that they had been “cleared of any involvement in terrorist activities” and announced that they would be permitted to leave Ghana without conditions in two years. Meanwhile, previously released jihadists have continued to rejoin the fight and take up leadership positions in al-Qaeda and ISIS. A commander-in-chief who willfully replenishes the enemy is guilty of a profound dereliction of duty.
‐ President Obama bumped up hard against the limits on his power in January when, after months of promising big, he announced a set of anti-gun executive actions that did nothing but tinker impotently around the edges. For gun-control groups that had hoped for serious measures, it was a serious let-down. A few days later, at a CNN town hall that had been contrived to help him sell the measures, the president was boxed repeatedly into a corner by an audience that wanted him to assure them that he was opposed to reforms more serious than those he had announced. Hoping to focus on his limited measures, Obama obliged, thereby confirming the weakness of his position and the deficiency of his supposed remedies.
‐ Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio have proposed conservative plans to make higher education more affordable by reducing and simplifying the federal government’s involvement in it. Rubio moved first: He proposed making it possible for private investors to finance a student’s education in return for a share of his future income. He also wants to give students and their parents more information about how well graduates fare depending on which college and major they pick, and he supports efforts to break the federal stranglehold on accrediting new institutions. Then Jeb Bush came out with an even bolder plan. His would replace various loan programs and tax credits with a new federal line of credit students could draw on; repayments would be a set percentage of their incomes. This program would be designed to cost no more than today’s system while restraining tuition inflation (one of the loan programs Bush eliminates has no borrowing limit, for example) and making debt burdens more predictable. Surveys suggest that Americans are deeply concerned about the cost of higher education, and federal policies have done a lot to raise those costs. Not many people have paid attention to these ideas, but more Republicans should.
‐ If you believe the Obama administration, the regime in Tehran is simply bubbling over with generosity. When ten American sailors experienced “mechanical failures” and drifted into Iranian waters, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, like AAA, transported them to the local equivalent of the Days Inn, made sure they got a good night’s rest, and helped them back into international waters after serving them a full and hearty breakfast. In fact, Iran seized the sailors at gunpoint and made sure to circulate photographs and video of their surrender on Iranian news media, in explicit violation of the Geneva Conventions. No matter. Secretary of State John Kerry groveled in “gratitude” for the regime’s “cooperation.” One week later, Iran released four more American hostages — Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, pastor Saeed Abedini, former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, and Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari — all of whom had been languishing in an Iranian prison, some for years. This was not an act of generosity, either. Iran received seven of its own back, including some convicted of trying to steal U.S. military technology, in a prisoner swap timed to soften President Obama’s announcement that Iran had fulfilled its end of the nuclear deal and would receive $1.7 billion — a separate payment from its $150 billion in frozen assets — wired from D.C. Iran still has American hostages; it’s just holding them in the White House.
‐ On New Year’s Eve, 18-year-old Michelle and her group of eleven friends were walking down to the Rhine in Cologne, Germany, to watch the fireworks over the river, when “suddenly we were surrounded by a group of between 20 and 30 men,” as she told a local television station. “They were groping us, and we were trying to get away as quickly as possible.” Michelle and her friends were just a few of the hundreds of young women — in Germany, Finland, and elsewhere — attacked by mobs of men identified to police as being of “Arab” or “North African” origin, none of whom were interested in chivalry: In Cologne, officers arrested one man who had a note with Arabic–German translations for phrases including “Nice breasts,” “I’ll kill you,” and “I want to have sex with you.” The massive, coordinated assault is a product of the clash of cultures occasioned by the recent refugee crisis — and a troubling reminder of the high rates of sexual violence among North African and Middle Eastern populations in Europe. The European political class frets that the attacks will reduce the public’s appetite for more such immigration, but refuses to consider the possibility that it should.
‐ Taiwanese have elected Tsai Ing-wen their president. She won in a landslide. She is the first female president of Taiwan, and one of the few female leaders ever to appear in East Asia. She is a member of the Democratic Progressive party. This is the party that emphasizes Taiwanese democracy, sovereignty, and distinctiveness. It also emphasizes a free economy. Like the DPP, Tsai does not want to provoke China, but neither does she want her country swallowed by it. The Chinese Communist Party reacted to her election with fury. Tsai responded in measured tones. Her election is cause for rejoicing — but then, so is Taiwan, which shows the world what a democratic China is.
‐ Saint Elijah’s Monastery, or Dair Mar Elia, was founded by an Assyrian monk in a.d. 595. Located just south of Mosul, it was the oldest extant Christian monastery in Iraq before ISIS razed it. It was abandoned in the 18th century, but in recent years U.S. troops worshiped there and worked to restore it. Recognizing its historical and cultural significance, the Obama administration, the United Nations, and the Vatican have denounced its destruction, which mirrors the fate of northern Iraq’s Christians at the hands of jihadists. Violence against Middle Eastern Christians should elicit a stronger reaction than does violence against their sacred architecture, but if it doesn’t — if we fail to hear their appeals for help — the stones will cry out.
‐ In Norway in November, the Child Welfare Service seized the five children of Marius and Ruth Bodnariu, a Romanian man and his Norwegian wife, Pentecostal Christians who were raising their family according to their faith. Officials charged that the parents were engaged in “Christian radicalization and indoctrination.” According to one report, the trouble began when, following rules, a scrupulous school principal duly reported that the Bodnariu children were, one of them told her, sometimes spanked by their parents. The children were then interrogated by investigators who asked leading questions, and the spankings got translated into “child abuse.” Authorities have threatened to adopt the children out to other families. Neighbors, including the principal, have testified that the family is fine, and the children well adjusted and normal. Demonstrations in support of the family have been organized across Europe. A delegation from the Romanian parliament recently met with Norwegian authorities to try to resolve the mess. The Bodnariu parents are scheduled to appear in court in March. There is abuse and child endangerment in this story, but it is not coming from them.
‐ In late January, University of Missouri professor Melissa Click was finally called to account for her misconduct. Click, who teaches communications and journalism at Mizzou, had been caught on film in November taking away a camera from a student journalist and calling for “muscle” to prevent him from covering a protest of which she approved. Until this week, there had been no repercussions whatsoever, even from Click’s employer. Now she is facing a charge of third-degree assault, which, if prosecuted successfully, could see her serve up to 15 days in jail. News of the action was welcomed by the man she aggressed, 22-year-old Mark Schierbecker, who told National Review that the university had given him the impression that Click, rather than he, had been wronged. It is peculiar, Schierbecker observed, that “those of us who actually know the Constitution and fight to uphold it have to educate the professors, instead of the other way around.” Unfortunately, the professors seem uneducable.
‐ Wisconsin’s legislature has passed a bill that would allow hunters to wear fluorescent pink protective clothing instead of blaze orange. The idea is to get more women interested in hunting. It might seem uncontroversial, but the Wisconsin Women’s Hunting and Sporting Association has criticized the bill as patronizing, while traditionalists complain that pink is an even tackier color than blaze orange. And a University of Wisconsin scientist says that deer see pink less well than orange in a forest environment, while humans see it slightly better, so the law is a lose-lose from the deer’s perspective. As we went to press, the bill was on the desk of Governor Scott Walker — who is no stranger to controversy but probably never expected to face such a tough decision on this particular issue.
‐ Life used to be so simple: Ever since 1930, our solar system had nine official planets. Then the astrophysicists had to go and ruin it all by demoting plucky little Pluto. But a pair of Caltech scientists have discovered orbital anomalies in some bits of space rubble that can be accounted for only by the gravity from a massive unseen object, which they call Planet 9. No one has actually seen Planet 9, but professors have detected its influence in many places. (It’s sort of like Hillary Clinton’s right-wing conspiracy.) If its existence is confirmed, order will finally be restored to the universe.
‐ In the comic strip Dustin, Ed Kudlick, Dustin’s father, says he is going back to his old clothes. “I realized I’m just too conservative to pull off the ‘GQ look.’ If I’m going to take fashion advice from a magazine . . . it’ll have to be National Review.” Pat Buckley would chortle heartily. A fashion plate, she always wanted WFB to dress better. What she thought of the rest of us is better left unrecorded.
‐ The United States “has more to be proud of and less to be ashamed of than any other nation on the face of the globe,” wrote the historian Forrest McDonald in his 2004 memoir, Recovering the Past. “I did not set out to prove that proposition; my instincts and my research led me to it, and I have little patience for those who say otherwise.” A native Texan who became a longtime professor at the University of Alabama, McDonald was a rara avis: a patriot scholar. His books engaged in the best kind of revisionist thinking — the kind that serves as a necessary corrective. We the People, for example, repudiated the claims of Charles A. Beard that the Founders wrote the Constitution to protect their elite class interests. Progressives loved the allegation because they loved to deride the Founders, but McDonald’s meticulous work made it impossible for honest academics to take it seriously. Other books — on George Washington, the intellectual origins of the Constitution, and the institution of the presidency — also were triumphs. McDonald preferred to write longhand, on yellow legal pads, and once said on C-SPAN that he sometimes composed on his porch in the nude. (“It’s warm most of the year in Alabama and why wear clothes? I mean, they’re just a bother.”) However he did it, he wrote well, in penetrating and accessible prose that general readers will continue to appreciate. Dead at 89. R.I.P.
‐ Ted Stanley was a great friend of NR, a great friend of WFB, a great friend of mankind. He served on our board for many years. He was thoughtful, commonsensical, and gentlemanly. He was a great believer in free enterprise, and an example of it. He co-founded the Danbury Mint in Connecticut and made a fortune. He and his wife, Vada, had a son who suffered from a mental disorder. Determined to do something about this, for him and others, they gave nearly all their money to medical research: more than a billion dollars. This made him one of the top philanthropists in the country. Vada died in 2013, and Ted died in January. It was a privilege to know them. R.I.P.
‐ George Weidenfeld was a famous publisher, a social ornament as host or guest, on the best of terms with presidents and prime ministers and popes, irresistible to women and much married, a penniless refugee from Nazism in his native Austria who became brilliantly successful and well-to-do, a knight and peer of the realm in the Britain he had adopted. Proud of the rabbis and scholars on his family tree, he saw himself as a sort of honorary ambassador of the Jewish people to everyone else, on a mission to explain ideas and change disagreement into agreement. Laying to rest the ghosts left by Nazism, he wrote a column in a leading German newspaper. To friend and foe, he represented supercharged energies and powers of imagination. Fittingly, his grave is on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem; he died aged 96. R.I.P.
‐ Last issue, in this space, we commented on the Mandera Heroes, the Muslim bus passengers who risked their lives to protect the Christians among them when the bus was attacked by al-Shabaab gunmen in northeast Kenya in December. Salah Farah, one of the Muslims who refused to separate himself from, and thereby identify, his fellow passengers who were Christian, was shot. “I do not know what got into me, but I knew these were bad people and had to be stopped,” he told journalists from his hospital bed. “I ask my brother Muslims to take care of the Christians so that the Christians also take care of us,” he told Voice of America. He died in surgery to treat his bullet wound, at age 34. We extend our solemn gratitude. R.I.P.
Donald Trump leads the polls nationally and in most states in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. There are understandable reasons for his eminence, and he has shown impressive gut-level skill as a campaigner. But he is not deserving of conservative support in the caucuses and primaries. Trump is a philosophically unmoored political opportunist who would trash the broad conservative ideological consensus within the GOP in favor of a free-floating populism with strong-man overtones.
Trump’s political opinions have wobbled all over the lot. The real-estate mogul and reality-TV star has supported abortion, gun control, single-payer health care à la Canada, and punitive taxes on the wealthy. (He and Bernie Sanders have shared more than funky outer-borough accents.) Since declaring his candidacy he has taken a more conservative line, yet there are great gaping holes in it.
His signature issue is concern over immigration — from Latin America but also, after Paris and San Bernardino, from the Middle East. He has exploited the yawning gap between elite opinion in both parties and the public on the issue, and feasted on the discontent over a government that can’t be bothered to enforce its own laws no matter how many times it says it will (President Obama has dispensed even with the pretense). But even on immigration, Trump often makes no sense and can’t be relied upon. A few short years ago, he was criticizing Mitt Romney for having the temerity to propose “self-deportation,” or the entirely reasonable policy of reducing the illegal population through attrition while enforcing the nation’s laws. Now, Trump is a hawk’s hawk.
He pledges to build a wall along the southern border and to make Mexico pay for it. We need more fencing at the border, but the promise to make Mexico pay for it is silly bluster. Trump says he will put a big door in his beautiful wall, an implicit endorsement of the dismayingly conventional view that current levels of legal immigration are fine. Trump seems unaware that a major contribution of his own written immigration plan is to question the economic impact of legal immigration and to call for reform of the H-1B–visa program. Indeed, in one Republican debate he clearly had no idea what’s in that plan and advocated increased legal immigration, which is completely at odds with it. These are not the meanderings of someone with well-informed, deeply held views on the topic.
As for illegal immigration, Trump pledges to deport the 11 million illegals here in the United States, a herculean administrative and logistical task beyond the capacity of the federal government. Trump piles on the absurdity by saying he would re-import many of the illegal immigrants once they had been deported, which makes his policy a poorly disguised amnesty (and a version of a similarly idiotic idea that appeared in one of Washington’s periodic “comprehensive” immigration reforms). This plan wouldn’t survive its first contact with reality.
On foreign policy, Trump is a nationalist at sea. Sometimes he wants to let Russia fight ISIS, and at others he wants to “bomb the sh**” out of it. He is fixated on stealing Iraq’s oil and casually suggested a few weeks ago a war crime — killing terrorists’ families — as a tactic in the war on terror. For someone who wants to project strength, he has an astonishing weakness for flattery, falling for Vladimir Putin after a few coquettish bats of the eyelashes from the Russian thug. All in all, Trump knows approximately as much about national security as he does about the nuclear triad — which is to say, almost nothing.
Indeed, Trump’s politics are those of an averagely well-informed businessman: Washington is full of problems; I am a problem-solver; let me at them. But if you have no familiarity with the relevant details and the levers of power, and no clear principles to guide you, you will, like most tenderfeet, get rolled. Especially if you are, at least by all outward indications, the most poll-obsessed politician in all of American history.
Trump has shown no interest in limiting government, in reforming entitlements, or in the Constitution. He floats the idea of massive new taxes on imported goods and threatens to retaliate against companies that do too much manufacturing overseas for his taste. His obsession is with “winning,” regardless of the means — a spirit that is anathema to the ordered liberty that conservatives hold dear and that depends for its preservation on limits on government power. The Tea Party represented a revival of an understanding of American greatness in these terms, an understanding to which Trump is tone-deaf at best and implicitly hostile at worst. He appears to believe that the administrative state merely needs a new master, rather than a new dispensation that cuts it down to size and curtails its power.
This is unpopular to say in the year of the “outsider,” but it is not a recommendation that Trump has never held public office. Since 1984, when Jesse Jackson ran for president with no credential other than a great flow of words, both parties have been infested by candidates who have treated the presidency as an entry-level position. They are the excrescences of instant-hit media culture. The burdens and intricacies of leadership are special; experience in other fields is not transferable. That is why all American presidents have been politicians, or generals.
Any candidate can promise the moon. But politicians have records of success, failure, or plain backsliding by which their promises may be judged. Trump can try to make his blankness a virtue by calling it a kind of innocence. But he is like a man with no credit history applying for a mortgage — or, in this case, applying to manage a $3.8 trillion budget and the most fearsome military on earth.
Trump’s record as a businessman is hardly a recommendation for the highest office in the land. For all his success, Trump inherited a real-estate fortune from his father. Few of us will ever have the experience, as Trump did, of having Daddy-O bail out our struggling enterprise with an illegal loan in the form of casino chips. Trump’s primary work long ago became less about building anything than about branding himself and tending to his celebrity through a variety of entertainment ventures, from WWE to his reality-TV show, The Apprentice. His business record reflects the often dubious norms of the milieu: using eminent domain to condemn the property of others; buying the good graces of politicians — including many Democrats — with donations.
Trump has gotten far in the GOP race on a brash manner, buffed over decades in New York tabloid culture. His refusal to back down from any gaffe, no matter how grotesque, suggests a healthy impertinence in the face of postmodern PC (although the insults he hurls at anyone who crosses him also speak to a pettiness and lack of basic civility). His promise to make America great again recalls the populism of Andrew Jackson. But Jackson was an actual warrior; and President Jackson made many mistakes. Without Jackson’s scars, what is Trump’s rhetoric but show and strut?
If Trump were to become the president, the Republican nominee, or even a failed candidate with strong conservative support, what would that say about conservatives? The movement that ground down the Soviet Union and took the shine, at least temporarily, off socialism would have fallen in behind a huckster. The movement concerned with such “permanent things” as constitutional government, marriage, and the right to life would have become a claque for a Twitter feed.
Trump nevertheless offers a valuable warning for the Republican party. If responsible people irresponsibly ignore an issue as important as immigration, it will be taken up by the reckless. If they cannot explain their Beltway maneuvers — worse, if their maneuvering is indefensible — they will be rejected by their own voters. If they cannot advance a compelling working-class agenda, the legitimate anxieties and discontents of blue-collar voters will be exploited by demagogues. We sympathize with many of the complaints of Trump supporters about the GOP, but that doesn’t make the mogul any less flawed a vessel for them.
Some conservatives have made it their business to make excuses for Trump and duly get pats on the head from him. Count us out. Donald Trump is a menace to American conservatism who would take the work of generations and trample it underfoot in behalf of a populism as heedless and crude as the Donald himself.
A Brief Reply to Our Critics
The editorial above and the symposium that begins on page 26 were released prior to publication and generated a tsunami of attention — and a lot of rage. Herewith a brief reply to the main themes of our critics.
Who are you to tell us what to think? Well, we’re an opinion magazine. This is what we do. People are free to agree or disagree, admire us or detest us. But this is what debate in a free society looks like.
Won’t your criticism just help Trump? This is certainly possible. But we aren’t a super PAC or a political campaign. We don’t focus-group our content. Our role is to call it as we see it and let the chips fall where they may. It has happened before that candidates we opposed won the Republican nomination (see Bob Dole in 1996 and John McCain in 2008), and it may well happen again this year.
You are the dastardly establishment. If Brent Bozell and Dana Loesch, Katie Pavlich and Erick Erickson — all contributors to our Trump symposium — are the establishment, the world really has been turned upside down. In reality, people who can more reasonably be described as belonging to the Republican establishment have been negotiating the terms of their surrender to Trump before a single vote has been cast, in an astonishing display of fecklessness.
How dare you attack someone so dominant in the polls? This is hard to fathom. If Trump were running second everywhere, it would be less urgent to criticize him, not more. As Trump explained in a recent debate, he began attacking Ted Cruz only when the Texan started rising in the polls. Trump’s supporters want to impose a set of rules whereby no one may look askance at him while he himself acts as a one-man political wrecking ball.
You just don’t get Trump’s appeal. Actually, we have written extensively about Trump’s appeal — from his emphasis on immigration to his resistance to political correctness — and believe his candidacy holds important lessons for the GOP. You can learn from him without nominating him (see Ramesh Ponnuru and Richard Lowry’s piece on page 18).
You created Trump (from the left). Liberals (and libertarians) fault us for inveighing against latitudinarian immigration policies and stoking opposition to President Obama. We plead guilty on both counts, but obviously there is no reason that the endpoint of either of these things need be Donald Trump.
You created Trump (from the right). The conservative version of this critique is that we ignored immigration as an issue and enabled a GOP establishment that has dismissed and angered voters. The first charge is absurd, given how intensely we have fought repeated attempts at “comprehensive immigration reform.” As for the second, for years we have published writers who have urged the GOP to adopt economic policies addressing the discontents of the American working class.
Bill Buckley would be ashamed. This is what Donald Trump himself said. He was apparently unaware that Buckley hated crude populism and had called Trump a “narcissist” and a “demagogue” back in 2000. While Trump’s positions on many issues have changed since then, that description still fits.
Amid the denunciation and the debate, many of you, our readers, have reached out with messages of support, and we have been awed at the tens of thousands of dollars of unsolicited donations that have poured in. You understand that NR is here to hold up the banner of conservatism, without fear or favor, and we are deeply grateful for your friendship.