It is no surprise that a nation willing to elect a Barack Obama might be willing to elect a Donald Trump. Anyone who claims to be appalled by President Obama’s government-by-executive-order should not be surprised if it turned out that Mr. Trump, who has spent his adult lifetime issuing executive orders imperiously in the private sector, cannot resist the temptation to do the same as President Obama.
Republicans should be paying attention to the fact that Mr. Trump is no fan of free trade, that his foreign-policy positions lean strongly toward the insular views of Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, that he has often voiced support for single-payer, government-controlled healthcare systems (despite his nominal criticism of ObamaCare), and that his aversion to excessive regulation appears to be based more upon the ubiquity and poor quality of our regulations than upon any objection to the executive branch’s usurpation of the role of the legislative branch. We should notice that Mr. Trump’s energetic criticism of Chief Justice Roberts is based upon Mr. Trump’s disappointment over the outcomes of some of the Roberts opinions – the fact that the wrong side won. We should notice that Mr. Trump ignores – or maybe just fails to understand – the fact that the Roberts opinions were built upon bedrock conservative judicial principles: the original meaning of the Constitution, the separation-of-powers structure (we should seek ways to validate acts of Congress, not to overrule them), and the principle that cases must be decided on the basis of the facts and the law rather than the court’s feelings about the law or the parties.
There is much to like about Mr. Trump’s opposition to political correctness, his direct and forthright criticism of people and things he does not like or admire, his “tough guy” patriotism, his general iconoclasm, even his boastful and overbearing personality. His approach is unique, but not necessarily troublesome. His personal character and the substance of his views, are what is troubling. Any Republican, and not just conservatives, should be concerned about Mr. Trump’s track record of giving most of his political contributions – and his votes – to Democrats, about his willingness to abuse the process of eminent domain as a tool of real estate development, about his decidedly un-conservative views on free trade and free markets, about the risk that he would employ the Obama technique of by-passing Congress whenever it refused to give him what he wanted, and about whether he has the strength of character to act decisively and correctly in matters involving national defense and security. We should be concerned about whether his approach to foreign policy will be as wise as it is bombastic. We should be concerned about his blustery threats to retaliate against Mexico and China and others who might not do what he wants them to do. We should be concerned that, as my fellow Texans might say, he is all hat and no cattle. We should be concerned that going from Obama to Trump would be jumping from the frying pan into the fire. An autocrat, regardless of personality, is still an autocrat.
Living in Texas, one learns that there is a form of conservatism that is more concerned with abortion, gun control, gay marriage, gender equality, and illegal-alien marauders than it is about the economy and national security. Texas conservatives tend to focus upon “values,” not principles; they may be fans of business but they have little interest in Milton Friedman or Hayek and will give you a blank stare if you mention “central planning.” The high end of Texas conservatism is the politics of the Bush dynasty, which are “compassionately” conservative (in an unenthusiastic way) and are pro-business (with such enthusiasm as to resemble crony capitalism), but are untroubled by the abuse of executive orders and federal regulations to sidestep the Congress in order to achieve economic objectives. In particular, the Bushes (especially Jeb) regularly come up with elaborate new programs to achieve conservative outcomes, while oblivious to the fact that this type of central planning and government regulation is anathema to those adhering to conservative principles of government. It is ironic that the conservatism of Mr. Trump, if he is conservative at all, is more like that of a Bush conservative than that of a Reagan or Buckley conservative.
Mr. Trump’s focus upon outcomes is hard to distinguish from the focus upon outcomes that drives his criticism of Chief Justice Roberts’s opinions: in each context, picking the preferred winners and losers is thought to be more important than following principles. Mr. Trump, like the Bushes and many other Republicans, seems oblivious to the principle that outcomes-based government is a form of corruption, an invitation to the practice of crony capitalism. Indeed, the focus upon outcomes has become ubiquitous: the simple-minded, outcomes-oriented approach of Mr. Trump is not just an indulgence of the hoi polloi, it is a strategy enthusiastically embraced by such well-known, self-described conservatives as Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Ann Coulter, and Laura Ingraham.
From the perspective of the Trumpies, Trump is the obvious choice, based upon the famous William F. Buckley imperative: nominate the best conservative who can win. For others, Trump fails to meet that standard – not because he cannot win, but because he is not a conservative. A Trump election would be a defeat for conservatism, not a victory.