The debate over the ratification of the Constitution was a hard fought battle of back and forth arguments in the papers at the time and in the legislatures of the states. And there were valid arguments on both sides of the issue. Thus since our founding there have been ideological differences between our Founders over the scope and purpose of a National government. But there is one thing the Federalists exemplified by Hamilton and the Republican-Democrats led by Jefferson agreed upon: political parties were evil. They thought of them as factions working only in their self-interests, not the common good.
But for all intents and purposes, political parties espousing different ideologies became the norm and it was the work of Martin Van Buren to forever instill the party system on the political process. As parties came and went with the Republican and Democratic Parties outlasting them all, their ideologies became distinct, especially during the administration of FDR and later Lyndon Johnson where the Democrats became the party of big government. Conversely, the GOP became its opposite. The Democrats attracted liberals; the Republicans attracted conservatives.
In the present, there are many “factions” now within each party although the media likes to play up the GOP differences. One would have thought that Party ideology would have been a potent check against Trump, but it wasn’t. Hard line conservatives who stood mainly on principle would surely reject an unprincipled candidate. Someone who touted his deal-making ability and sometimes compromise would likewise be rejected.
In the span of two weeks, Trump managed to bungle Republican ideological orthodoxy in four key areas: abortion, taxes, national security, and health care reform. Yet, his poll numbers went up or remained high and he continued to win primaries. Suddenly, the GOP primary voter was choosing a candidate who often held out contempt for the ideology that defined the Party since the Reagan era.
Some have speculated that ideology became less important and that conservatism ceased to be a movement and became associated with identities. This writer has to agree with some of this analysis. No candidate any year is perfect, not even Ted Cruz as many contended on these pages and elsewhere. He called himself the “most consistently conservative candidate.” It has become less about legislative accomplishment or governing experience and more about personality. If Mitch McConnell was to tomorrow receive a perfect “A” rating from every conservative group, it would never match the bombast of Trump or the folksy attacks from the likes of Sarah Palin.
What is disturbing is how a good percentage of the GOP electorate ate it up. He urged evangelical voters to trust him on social issues, then two days later talked about expanding gay rights. When the contradiction was questioned, he refused to answer questions. End of discussion, Trump style.
One pundit noted that Eric Cantor and John Boehner- two powerful politicians- had been run out of office for lesser transgressions against conservative orthodoxy and ideology. Clearly, Trump is no conservative by any stretch of the imagination. To the extent an ideology exists, it is clearly populist. His supporters are akin to those of Grover Cleveland who liked him not for his policies, but for the enemies he made. Likewise with Trump.
Trump’s campaign is long on tone and rhetoric and short on substance and ideology. That is because there is no mooring ideology, just what suits him that day. Jeb Bush was the first to attack Trump methodically on his lack of a sound ideology and he dropped in the polls as Trump rose. It is akin to a frequent Democratic lament: working class voters agree with them on most issues, but constantly vote Republican. As Russ Douthat noted in the New York Times: “He can sound like Pat Buchanan on trade and Bernie Sanders on health care.”
Consider the following sins of Donald Trump:
- Conservatives fought against the Obama stimulus while Trump said it was necessary;
- Conservatives fought against the auto bailout while Trump heralded it;
- Conservatives fought against the bank bailout while Trump said it was something that had to be done;
- Conservatives fought against spending while Trump has no compunctions about spending your money;
- Conservatives fought for tax cuts while Trump was proposing a wealth tax;
- Conservatives fought against Obamacare while Trump was singing the praises of socialized medicine in Canada and Scotland;
- Conservatives fought for free trade while Trump is advocating protectionism, and;
- Conservatives fought against the wanton use of eminent domain while Trump has actually used eminent domain and sings it praises.
His views of the Presidency are equally troubling. Obama has elevated the imperial presidency to new heights. Trump is the proverbial knight riding in on his white horse to get rid of the “stupid” people, hire “the greatest people you’ve ever seen” and fix everything. Along the way, when asked on specifics of how this will get done, we receive a “Wait! You’ll see…trust me” answer. The answer is obvious- he will take even the worse excesses of the Obama administration’s power grabs for the Executive and use it as justification for making the Presidency even more imperial.
That alone would make our Founders cringe at the thought of a President Trump. Given the generational strides taken by people like William Buckley and Ronald Reagan, Trump threatens to tear that all asunder and remake conservatism in his image. Not having an iota of sense about what conservatism is, the “new Trump conservatism” will be an unprincipled set of ideologies looking like nothing we have seen before because it will not be conservatism.