“Donald Trump is not a conservative!” That was probably the most prominent accusation that drew me to a meager defense of Donald Trump. It seemed so obvious that it was a false accusation which could be easily refuted. After all, the things he spoke about – illegal immigration, cutting taxes, job creation, eliminating government departments – these have been constant themes of discussion among conservatives since the days of Ronald Reagan. Reagan ran on all those things and more, including a strong military, which Trump also wants. So it was rather perplexing when people would say that Trump was not a conservative based upon what I’ve known conservatism to be all my adult life.
Like so many other people, I didn’t give Trump a second thought as a candidate. I had not followed him since the 1980s when he had his celebrity divorce from Ivana. It was only by accident that I’d seen any of his TV show. None of his books were in my library. My occasional brushes with his comments were not impressive. The few I recalled were criticisms of George W. Bush, whom I supported. Being from New York, I expected him to be fiscally conservative but socially liberal – sort of a George Pataki type. But that was not the platform he announced. Still, I didn’t give him a prayer of surviving the primary process. Republican voters usually go with a governor when they have a chance and we had several of them in the race. However, Trump’s conservative message struck a chord with voters and he is on the precipice of becoming the Republican nominee.
Never before have I seen so many false statements and ridiculous charges leveled against a political candidate. So I began to offer corrections about them because I simply think that a man should be judged fairly. As I was soon to learn, not even his conservative opponents were much interested in seeking the truth. Thus, in their eyes, I was one of those wicked turncoat pseudo-conservatives who was supporting a guy they viewed as Devil J. Trump. He was frequently called a “liar”, “Hitler”, and “Dear Leader”. No positive word could be spoken of him. No minor, neutral, gentle correction of fact could be given to them. He was pure wickedness and definitely not a conservative.
Trump and Schlafly
When the greatest living conservative icon, Phyllis Schlafly, endorses you as “the only hope to defeat the Kingmakers” and says, “he does look like he’s the last hope [for America]” you’re in good conservative company. Schlafly has also affirmed that Trump is a conservative and has pledged to support the Republican Party Platform, which she described as the “most conservative” we’ve ever had. Schlafly also likes Ted Cruz, but for the Supreme Court not the presidency.
Also in the “solid conservative” camp who have endorsed Trump is none other than Senator Jeff Sessions. This took a lot of people by surprise since he and Ted Cruz have been close over the years. Talk Radio host Michael Savage has also endorsed Trump. Former governors Jan Brewer (AZ) and Sarah Palin (AL) and sitting governor Rick Scott (FL) are also conservatives who endorse Trump. Palin had endorsed Cruz during his senate run and was considered likely to endorse his presidential run. Conservative stalwart Pat Buchanan has not issued a formal endorsement but he clearly favors Trump. There are others. How could all these people be so wrong? Are they selling out the movement? Are they fooled by Trump’s charisma and clever lies? Are they secretly RINOs? I don’t think so.
Trump on the Issues
When Trump formally entered politics on June 16, 2015 he did so with a very conservative platform. Many of his positions have been put into writing at this website. So what are some of the issues that have been driving his campaign? Here are a few for the purposes of this discussion.
- Stopping Illegal Immigration
- Repealing Obamacare
- Second Amendment
- Tax Reform
- Job Creation
- Strong Military
- Veterans’ Administration Reform
- Foreign Policy
- Foreign Trade
- Education Reform
On every one of these issues (and others not listed) Trump holds a clearly conservative position. In fact, on dealing with Illegal Immigration he has been the most conservative. His call to build a wall has been bold and consistent. His plans to deport illegals are even more bold. They fight against politically correct sentiment and buck the politicians who say it is infeasible. There is no question that he put this issue on the political map in ways no one else had. Most of the Republican field was weak on this issue. Their campaigns failed because of it.
Trump also championed the end of “birth-right citizenship” which was something that no one was talking about at all until he brought it up. That was clearly a more conservative position than anyone else in the field at the time.
The reformer side of Donald Trump has led him to be even more forward thinking than his opponents at times. For example, he has proposed reworking the NATO agreements in order to force the countries that we defend to pay more for our services. It is a 60 year old organization that badly needs to be updated to reflect the changing times and economic situations of the countries that we defend. Cutting those military expenses and being paid for services rendered is a more conservative position than taken by his opponents who view the status quo as suitable.
Trump’s proposal to put in cutthroat business negotiators to handle our foreign trade deals would also be something more conservative than what others have proposed. This gets down to Trump’s results-oriented approach. Rather than have political appointees given these positions regardless of their merit as negotiators, Trump would make negotiating the chief qualification for the job. That clearly is a business-oriented approach which is all too foreign to the way government works. Often these jobs are paybacks of sorts for support. The fact that Trump is self-funding his campaign is actually an issue of importance. It does free him from some of the ties to donors that the standard politician has.
The Paris attack by terrorists also brought the Second Amendment to the forefront again. Trump called for interstate gun carry permits. If you can have a driver’s license that is respected in all states so also should your concealed carry permit be respected in all states. After all, it is a federally protected Constitutional right to keep and bear arms. Certainly that is a strong conservative position. Trump has also proposed almost entirely doing away with the EPA and completely doing away with the Department of Education (as well as some other departments). In his mind, education should be done at the local level and not the federal level. Ronald Reagan also proposed doing away with several governmental departments although it never happened. These are all thoroughly conservative ideas. They are frequently more conservative than most of his competitors and in some cases he holds the most conservative position.
Trump v. Cruz
Until the “bromance” ended in mid-January, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz were considered practically identical on the issues. The difference was that Trump was a newcomer to the political scene with common sense, conservative business tendencies while Cruz was a well-established lawyer and politician who was viewed as a conservative ideologue. The two brought different approaches to the conservative movement but in the end their views were very much the same. There was even talk of a Trump/Cruz ticket. The strength of this ticket would be that Trump had the zeal and public support for reform while Cruz would also be a conservative reformer who could have the ear of the president, help keep the agenda on track, and then become president himself. It could be a smooth transition from a common sense conservative president to an intellectually founded conservative president. In the process the country could get sixteen good years of court appointments, fiscal reform, job creation, et al. But with the current hostilities between them that seems unlikely. Nevertheless, they still hold very similar positions and that gets forgotten in the heat of the battle. In fact, the close similarity would seem to be one of the motivations for Cruz intentionally misrepresenting some of Trump’s positions. He consistently accuses Trump of being for socialized medicine and not being pro-life, both of which are demonstrably false accusations. It points to the difficulty that Cruz has in contrasting himself with Trump.
One of the more significant differences between Cruz and Trump is that Cruz has proposed abolishing the IRS while Trump has proposed tax reform similar to Reagan’s. On this particular issue, Cruz feeds the most conservative voters who would love to see the IRS abolished. Yet both men stand well in the square of conservatism with what they propose.
Judicial appointments is another area where both Trump and Cruz agree. Both men say they want originalist judges like Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court. Trump is working with The Heritage Foundation to put together a list of potential appointees. Heritage is certainly a conservative organization.
Both Trump and Cruz want to defeat ISIS, bolster relations with Israel, and move the U.S embassy to Jerusalem. In fact, both men would agree that all ten of the items listed above are necessary and are part of their platforms. These are all conservative positions.
Why the Difficulty?
Why is it that Donald Trump is so hated by certain segments of the conservative movement? The main reason seems to be that he does not have a long and deep history as a movement conservative. He was once pro-choice but hated the concept of abortion; now he’s made the rest of the transition to the pro-life camp. He doesn’t hold all of the same positions on social issues that he did when he was younger. As most people do, he has grown and matured over time. However, the movement conservatives can’t seem to forgive him for not being one of them. They don’t care that he lived and worked in the difficult and Democrat dominated New York City. They don’t like the fact that he supported both Republican and Democrat politicians throughout the years as a means to open the doors to business. They don’t like the fact that he is not a polished political speaker. He does not strike them as a conservative intellectual. The evangelical Christian crowd recognizes that Trump is not one of them in terms of his ability to talk about Scripture. Ted Cruz is. For some of them that is a deciding factor. In short, there is no forgiveness for any “sins” in his background from a certain segment of the academic, religious, and social conservatives. They don’t trust him with the Constitution or with judicial appointments or with pro-life issues. They think he’s just a clever and charismatic liar.
It is true that Mr. Trump has not been a public movement conservative. From time to time he slips up and lets us know that there are some issues he hasn’t fully connected with yet. He recently had a run-in with the pro-life community over something he said off the cuff in an interview. Even with such a gaff, though, he still holds to the pro-life position. He is still on their side of the issue even if he’s not as articulate and deeply stewed in it as someone who deals with this frequently and publicly like Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. People who are so impassioned about their pet issues seldom stop to consider that it is not a pet issue to every one equally. If the tables were turned and they were asked a question about business then suddenly they might find themselves being looked at by Mr. Trump as the one who is ill-educated or has not thought through the implications of what they said. Trump made a logical, intellectual move from being pro-choice but hating the concept of abortion to being pro-life. It was a common sense thing to do in the face of the experiences that brought him there. That puts him on the right side of the issue. It does not make it the issue about which he is most studied or most impassioned in the same way that the pro-life warriors are. It is wrong to expect our politicians to be exactly like we are on every hot-button issue.
The one thing that Mr. Trump seems very clear and passionate about is saving this country from destruction. Illegal immigration and its subsections of deportation, crime, and border security are at the top of his list. As he frequently reminds us, “Either you have a country or you don’t. You have to have a strong border.” Right behind this issue is job creation and renegotiating deals with our foreign trading partners. These are the things that you would expect a businessman to be most impassioned about. All of the issues are important to him but he is not equally well-versed in all of them. Nor are any of us. Simply because he doesn’t “do” conservatism the way you like it doesn’t mean that he is not a conservative.
Say what you will about Mr. Trump, but if you are a fair-minded person you have to say that his positions since entering the political arena are conservative positions. Ronald Reagan would recognize them as such. Phyllis Schlafly, Senator Jeff Sessions, and Governors Brewer, Scott, and Palin also recognize them. It is time some of my conservative friends put down the hysteria and set aside the paranoia in order to realize that Donald Trump is a conservative.