During this campaign we’ve had a strong dose of intraparty fighting about the meaning of conservatism.
As a political ideology and movement conservatism is the animating force in the Republican Party.
This does not mean that all Republicans are conservative, far from it. But, the Republican Party is the natural home of conservatism. The goals of conservatives: limited government, free market economics and a strong national defense are most likely to be supported by Republicans.
Donald Trump has claimed the mantle of the Republican Party (nearly). He is pledging to reduce the size and scope of government (when and where it suits him). He is claiming to support free market economics while pushing protectionism (go figure). He is unabashedly calling out the enemies of the USA while supporting a strong and robust military (even if it means killing innocent family members who happen to hang out with terrorists).
Let us for the sake of argument set aside briefly whether Ted Cruz or Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee in 2016. And, let’s suspend wild speculation about what happens after the GOP convention and the next 9 months and the general election. Instead of attaching a name let us consider how a Conservative President would act in office to better understand conservatism.
Of all the ideas that give force to policy positions in the Republican Party the thrust of conservatism gives intellectual weight to them. The reason I find Trump dangerous is not my fictional projection of what I think he will do. George Will is afraid of his perch being assaulted. Glenn Beck is afraid of a Strong Man that starts wars internal and external. I’m only concerned about his superficial appeal to hypodermic solutions to deep problems.
The three-legged stool standard definition of conservatism does not describe what or conservative president would do in office. Nor, does it describe why a conservative president gets elected. It is simply a rubric we can apply to most political discourse and judge its adherence to certain core principles that flow from conservatism. Using this as a description lacks the necessity of traditional Judeo-Christian moral values and constitutional fidelity to conservatism in action (which is a separate article).
If elected in 2016 a Conservative President faces numerous obstacles. They must eradicate various anti-constitutional executive orders. While doing this, they must use executive power to rehabilitate our military and dismantle the administrative state. They must also use executive power to demolish state sponsored immorality in the form of taxing, funding, agencies, partnerships, policies, official statements and regulations.
This is not something that Congress has shown a propensity for or the ability to accomplish.
Therefore, anyone who is looking for a conservative president to solve this problem while maintaining the constitutional bonds of checks and balances is looking in the wrong place. A president can’t get Congress to assert itself. But he can force their hand.
This is where the criticism of Trump by Leon is most pointed. Many people call him an authoritarian because of his heavy handed approach to power. This is an impression more than an observation.
My question to Trump’s critics: how do you think a Conservative President would accomplish the advancement of conservatism?
What do you expect your Republican President to do?
And can you honestly say that your approach would be effective?
Our standard three-legged stool definition of conservatism lacks the reasoning that recommends it. Conservatism is more nuanced and fulfilling than liberalism. It goes deeper into our national history and ethos. It establishes a wider range of proscriptions and prohibitions of government.
But it is harder to package than liberalism.
If elected, a conservative President must not allow political machinations to weigh down the results driven actions needed.
This is not authoritarian. This is realism. We cannot put the genie back in the bottle by gently inviting him back in. You must apply force. This may be unfortunate. But who is to blame for this state of affairs?
In a word or two: Not Conservatives.
The pace of political changes tends toward overreaction. Joe Cunningham points this out in his nerdy piece that draws from the Batman comic books:
“…Issues like re-directing the party, fixing the country’s immigration issues, and putting a stop to executive overreach take more than a single election cycle. They take years to build toward. They are not something that can be fixed in a single election. We’ve tried, of course, in 2010 and 2014, thinking that winning one or both houses in Congress would be enough to move the Republican Party to action.”
Democrats don’t wait for elections to take action. They are always attacking, relentlessly unlike any animal I can think of. Our occasional electoral victories hardly result in slowing the effects of liberalism in our nation, government and society. Stopping liberalism has become like attempts to stop the tide from rolling in.
Liberalism has been marching forward for the last 100 years. Conservatism has been standing athwart history saying “STOP!” Apart from minor break-slams our nation has continued to careen out of control off of the cliff. Liberalism uses an incremental, communistic, Hegelian dialectic to advance an agenda of individual degradation and government expansion (which go hand in hand).
The approach to government of the conservative is to ignore it until it gets too big and rears its ugly head to snap a bite of our own lives. The liberal works in the shadows to push forward more incursions of the state into the daily lives of citizens.
Therefore, when the conservative gets a hold of government it is a fire sale, because they are attempting to undo 20-30 years of liberalism in 24 hours (maybe 3 weeks or 6 months). If the cancer has been ignored until only surgery can repair the body – it requires massive and invasive cutting. This often doesn’t work well. If the patient survives the recovery process is long and arduous. Future pain in the recovery process replaces the discomfort of the lost treatment beforehand. This extreme treatment is akin to taking harsh medicine.
How do you limit government when it is metastasized cancer spreading into all areas of our lives?
Government is not some abstraction. It is force authorized by divine command. Government is not the buildings in DC. Government is not the reams of laws and regulations written daily.
Government is power in the hands of people to affect our lives.
A conservative President will have to, by definition, take blade to flesh. This is the uncomfortable reality of our political situation.
I am sorry but anything short of massive action will result in more liberalism.