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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Trump Is Very Bad for Conservatism

In  Defying the Odds, we explain that Trump has renounced the conservatism of Ronald Reagan.
He usually dismissed high ideals by reducing them to crude material terms. Consider for instance, America’s foundational proposition that all men are created equal. “The world is not fair,” Trump said in a 2006 video. “You know they come with this statement `all men are created equal.’ Well, it sounds beautiful, and it was written by some very wonderful people and brilliant people, but it's not true because all people and all men [laughter] aren't created [equal] … you have to be born and blessed with something up here [pointing to his head]. On the assumption you are, you can become very rich.” Similarly, Trump did not think of “American exceptionalism” as a way of thinking about the nation’s role as a beacon for equality and liberty. As he said in 2015, it was all about the Benjamins.
I want to take everything back from the world that we’ve given them. We’ve given them so much. On top of taking it back, I don’t want to say, “We’re exceptional, we’re more exceptional.” Because essentially we’re saying, “We’re more outstanding than you. By the way, you’ve been eating our lunch for the last 20 years, but we’re more exceptional than you.” I don’t like the term. I never liked it.
Trump’s disdain for these ideas put him at odds with a major strain of conservative thought that revered the Declaration. It surely set him apart from conservatives who loved to quote Reagan’s rhetoric of a “shining city on a hill” and who faulted President Obama for seeming to belittle American exceptionalism. Trump just did not care very much for conservative ideology. In May of 2016, he said: “This is called the Republican Party. It’s not called the Conservative Party.” Trump pollster Tony Fabrizio told a post-election conference: “One of the problems is many people tried to look at the Donald Trump phenomenon through the ideological lenses which had defined previous Republican presidential nominating contests. Donald Trump is post ideological. His movement transcends ideology.”
Charles J. Sykes at The New York Times:
Mr. Trump’s most vocal supporters don’t have to defend his specific actions as long as they make liberal heads explode, or as Sarah Palin put it so memorably, “It’s really funny to me to see the splodey heads keep sploding.” If liberals hate something, the argument goes, then it must be wonderful and worthy of aggressive defense. Each controversy reinforces the divisions and the distrust, and Mr. Trump counts on that.
For many in the conservative movement, this sort of anti-anti-Trumpism is the solution to the painful conundrum posed by the Trump presidency. With a vast majority of conservative voters and listeners solidly behind Mr. Trump, conservative critics of the president find themselves isolated and under siege. But, as Damon Linker noted, anti-anti-Trumpism “allows the right to indulge its hatred of liberals and liberalism while sidestepping the need for a reckoning with the disaster of the Trump administration itself.”
This is also a much sounder business model than airing doubts about the president. Conservative media is, of course, a business that relies on ratings, and few things generate ratings more quickly than bashing liberals. In this case, it is more profitable for talk show hosts to play down Mr. Trump’s failures while piling on his enemies.
...

What may have begun as a policy or a tactic in opposition has long since become a reflex. But there is an obvious price to be paid for essentially becoming a party devoted to trolling. In the long run, it’s hard to see how a party dedicated to liberal tears can remain a movement based on ideas or centered on principles.
 Jonah Goldberg at NRO:
On Thursday, I noted in the Corner that Donald Trump tried to convince the editors of The Economist (!) that he coined the phrase “prime the pump” to describe Keynesian economic stimulus. This is just bizarre. It’s even more bizarre when you consider that Trump claims that he invented the phrase just a few days ago — especially since he’s been using the term himself for more than a year. I asked readers what could possibly explain this objectively ridiculous statement and, sure as shinola, a common answer was, “It’s all part of his plan!” By saying something absurd, Trump is getting people to talk about how he’s going to prime the pump! Get it? Genius!
This is a very small example of a very large problem. The rush to defend the myth of Trump is causing conservatives to abandon their principles, standards, and credibility at a breathtaking pace. Forget the issue of who coined the phrase “prime the pump.” Everyone seems to have overlooked the fact that we have a Republican president defending a school of economics that conservatives have been trying to beat back for more than a century (free-market economists were anti-Keynesian before Keynes was born).
Some conservatives downplay his behavior by saying:  "Gorsuch! Tax cuts! Obamcare repeal!"  Max Boot replies at The New York Times:
Isn’t it worth overlooking a few crazy tweets in return for this conservative policy nirvana?
If that is all that Mr. Trump demanded, and if he actually delivered results, the answer might be yes. But the events of this week have made clear that the price of an accommodation with Mr. Trump is higher. Much, much higher.
Like other conservatives, I care about tax cuts and military spending increases. But I care even more about the rule of law — the only thing that prevents our country from going the way of Venezuela, Russia or Zimbabwe.
In office less than four months, Mr. Trump has already undermined the rule of law in myriad small ways. He allowed his daughter and son-in-law to work in the White House in arguable violation of an anti-nepotism statute. He did not divest himself of his business holdings and did not release his tax returns. His sons have continued pursuing deals with jillionaires closely linked to unsavory foreign regimes. He and his daughter have accepted valuable trademark protections from China. His son-in-law’s family sought to trade on their connections to sell American citizenship to rich Chinese.
But all of that is inconsequential compared with the flagrant assault on the rule of law represented by the firing of the F.B.I. director.