In the previous essay, I wrote of the need for a thorough analysis of the field of Republican presidential candidates. Since then, we’ve seen a slight drop in the number of contenders when Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal withdrew from the contest. Indeed, after Rick Perry and Scott Walker, he is the third governor to drop out of the race in a year that has seen traditional, establishment qualifications utterly repudiated by the Republican base.
In large part this is due to Donald Trump, who has carved out an (appropriately large) niche for himself as the angry man’s candidate. The establishment never anticipated his rise (what place do they see for a candidacy based on the rejection of everything they stand for?) And for many months they have refused to acknowledge his staying power, obstinately pretending that his support has reached its apex, and that his campaign is about to collapse.
Nevertheless, Trump always remained in the lead, and always remained strong. He is a serious candidate, and since this year’s election has, thus far, been defined largely by his presence, it makes sense to consider in greater detail the merits of the Trump candidacy. There are, in my opinion, three essential questions to consider. First, why is he so popular? Second, is he a conservative? And third, what will happen if he wins the presidency?
Donald Trump has been leading in every national poll since August. Public Policy Polling, which has a reputation as the most accurate pollster, found him to be at 26 percent in a poll conducted last Thursday. He leads the pack by a large margin: Ben Carson is at 19%, Ted Cruz at 14%, and Marco Rubio at 13%. No one else is above 5%.
It is quite apparent that this eccentric billionaire has brought something to American public discourse that resonates with tens of millions of Americans. Why has a man so out of place in the world of politics garnered such admiration from the public? Because, at heart, Mr. Trump is a populist. He appeals to the common people and spurns elites. “Our politicians are stupid,” he says, blaming “truly stupid leadership in Washington,” for holding our nation back. “They’re holding back this incredible, pent-up energy, and when we release it, we will be great again.”
That, then, is his message: the politicians are stupid, so elect me and I’ll make America great again. Because conservatives across America are very angry with their current government, and very much want to see their country made great again, they are generally supportive of Trump.
Clearly, Donald Trump is one of the most successful, practical, and plainspoken people in the country. What could be a bigger contrast with our current leaders in Washington, who refuse to listen to the people and are unable to pass even routine budget measures without lengthy and ultimately fruitless partisan squabbles? Indeed, Trump’s unique experiences in climbing to the top have given him the insight and confidence needed to both recognize and ridicule our nation’s most overrated people. Trump’s undeniable accomplishments, harsh attitude toward the establishment, and commitment to decisive action are a combination that voters haven’t seen in a long time.
“I’m going to make American great again,” Trump says. “I will build a great wall. I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created. I’ll hit ISIS so hard your head will spin. I’ll bomb the hell out of them, and take their oil.”
Conservatives across the country are very angry about the status quo, and rightfully so. Donald Trump is extremely popular because he is the perfect vessel to channel their anger – he is, or seems to be, the opposite of everything they hate about Washington. Trump has carved out a niche for himself as the angry man’s candidate, and the way things are going right now, that niche is turning out to be larger than any other.
But supporters of Trump should beware, and ask themselves much value they place on anger alone. Finding someone who is loud and outspoken about a few political issues is, in itself, unimpressive. Trump’s success as a real estate developer and reality television star have given him a place on the national stage, but voters should be asking themselves how deep his commitment to conservatism really runs. Hence the second question: is Donald Trump a conservative?
Donald Trump gets most of his attention for his views on immigration and the Middle East. His harshness toward illegal immigrants and his strong opposition toward rapprochement with Iran or a soft policy toward the Islamic State are the issues on which he is the loudest, and he seldom gets any attention for his views on the issues about which he is not loud. But his positions there are clear to see, and he has stated them amply in the recent series of televised debates.
Donald Trump has a moderate attitude toward Vladimir Putin and Russian expansionism, and believes that he can negotiate favorably with Putin. He believes that single-payer health care works in Canada. He is supportive of strong eminent domain powers, and has praised the Supreme Court’s 2005 decision in Kelo v. City of New London, which condoned the use of eminent domain to further private interests.
David McIntosh, president of the Club for Economic Growth, has said that “Trump is the most liberal candidate on fiscal policy in the whole field, with the possible exception of Bernie Sanders. His angry style may reflect the deep frustration Americans have with Washington leaders who have failed to keep their promises. But the policies he’d implement would benefit himself and his own interests, not the American people.”
Except for the few issues that he’s loud about, Trump’s views generally range from moderate to liberal. The common misconception that he is the most extreme conservative in the race has gained traction because those who listen to the liberal media mistake his rudeness for conservatism. It is a sad reflection on the current state of our nation that so many people cannot distinguish between the two qualities.
Even more frightening is Trump’s past political history. From about 2001 to 2009, he was a registered Democrat. Within the last two decades, he has described himself as “very pro-choice,” and voiced support for an assault weapons ban, wealth tax, and universal health care. He has a long history of supporting Hillary Clinton, and gave money to her presidential campaign in 2007. These are but a few of the many glaring political flip-flops that dot his career as a public figure.
There is room in the Republican Party for ex-liberals; indeed, Ronald Reagan himself supported Democratic candidates and causes early in his life. But Reagan entered presidential politics only after a long history of supporting conservative principles and conservative policies. Donald Trump has no such history.
Rome was not built in a day, and an opportunist who became a Republican during the current presidential administration, jumping into the race just as it became fashionable to hate the establishment, is wholly unsuited to lead the next generation of conservatives. Love him or hate him, Jeb Bush spoke the truth when he remarked: “El hombre no es conservadore.”
Donald Trump isn’t a conservative. The angry conservatives who support Trump are either ignorant of what he really stands for, or they’re angry first, and conservative only second. Hopefully, they will wake up to the reality of what they’re supporting before it’s too late.
The first two questions, concerning why Trump appeals to voters and where he really stands ideologically, have been answered. This leaves the third; concerning what Trump will likely do if he is nominated and elected to the presidency.
To answer this question, we need to look past politics and rhetoric to Trump’s character, and to two problems in particular: his lying, and his arrogance. To put it simply, Donald Trump is a lying liar who lies. Unlike most politicians, he isn’t even subtle about it. Consider his remark in the third televised GOP debate, where he flatly denied having said that Marco Rubio is Mark Zuckerberg’s personal senator. That exact statement was present on his campaign website at the time of the debate, and it’s still there today, in his policy statement on Immigration Reform.
One need only search the internet to find dozens of other completely false statements. As a political opportunist, Trump will say what sounds best at the moment, with no regard for whether or not it’s actually true. While such behavior may be acceptable, or even desirable, in a liberal, conservatives should know better than to support a candidate who plays so loosely with the truth. With such wild variation’s in his policy positions, there’s no way to know what he’ll do about any particular issue if he actually becomes president.
Donald Trump is also extremely arrogant. I think that this was clearly manifest in his response to the Supreme Court’s ruling in King v. Burwell, after which he tweeted: “If I win the presidency, my judicial appointments will do the right things unlike Bush's appointee John Roberts.” Not only does this tweet present a grossly simplistic view of Chief Justice Roberts’ jurisprudence, but it manifests Trump’s belief in his own ability, as someone who has never before held public office, to consistently make conservative judicial appointments – a goal which eluded even experienced statesmen such as Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush.
Donald Trump’s insistence that he can cut taxes by hundreds of billions of dollars without either running up enormous deficits or diminishing retirement benefits, all because of his acumen for business, only adds to the reasons to doubt his integrity. If elected president, he’ll do something about the deficit, but there’s no way to tell what. Trump is a loose cannon; while he makes many fabulous promises, no one can know which ones he’ll keep and which he’ll renege on.
In summary, Donald Trump is not the right man to lead the conservative movement into the future. While Trump is very successful as a businessman and has many good policy ideas, his questionable political history and utter lack of honesty or humility should disqualify him from the presidency. The American people seem to agree; according to a recent Quinnipiac poll, Trump is the only major Republican candidate who loses in a one-to-one matchup with Hillary Clinton.
Donald Trump may be the angry man’s candidate, but if you’re looking for a true conservative to represent the Republican Party next November, he’s not the one. If our nation is to experience a true revival of our founding principles, we will need a very different kind of man as our standard-bearer in next year’s general election.