How Conservative is Trump?

The 2016 presidential election is likely to be the most consequential of the century. Its outcome will likely govern the selection three Supreme Court appointments as well as numerous other federal judgeships, it will determine whether or not our national sovereignty continues to be stripped away and if the federal bureaucracy will intensify its vilification of conservatives and Christians. In fact, it will affect our ability to have free elections decided by legitimately cast votes of U.S. citizens. In short, it is so consequential that a failure to participate is simply not conservative.

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By Stephen R. Bowers | June 20, 2016

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Much has been said regarding the extent of Donald Trump’s conservatism. The entire conversation is predicated on the assumption that the conservative philosophy can be measured with precision and that there are only certain positions which are acceptable within its philosophical framework.

Yet, there is some confusion regarding the philosophy and inconsistencies in its application to political issues with which we contend in 2016. Declarations that the GOP is no longer the “party of Reagan” obscure the reality of our current political debate.

While one might accurately maintain that Trump is no Reagan, we must also acknowledge that the campaign of 2016 is not the campaigns of 1980 and 1984. Therefore, Trump’s political positions must be evaluated in terms of where the nation is today. And one must also take into account the vitriolic rhetoric which the left directs against Trump. As we question the depth of  his “conservative beliefs,” the left raises the specter of Trump as a right-winger who will undermine the welfare state, retard the push toward internationalism, and who will refuse to recognize our need to subordinate American interests to the demands of an international community which insists that everyone has the right to live in the United States or, at a minimum, to enjoy the benefits of America’s prosperity.

In an early debate exchange, Senator Rand Paul challenged Senator Marco Rubio’s conservatism because the latter argued that the U.S. military requirements justified significant increases in the military budget. Paul responded by saying there was nothing conservative about spending so much on national defense. Paul’s proposition ignored that fact that some issues cannot be viewed exclusively within the rubric of conservatism and, presumably Senator Paul would have disputed Reagan’s conservatism because of the military buildup which he directed. Thus, there are valid approaches to vital national problems that cannot be assessed in terms of the sliding scale of conservatism.

But as we consider the nature of a Trump presidency, it is important to take into account those people who would populate a Trump administration and thus shape the ideological environment of that administration. As more conservatives accept the need to embrace the Republican nominee, the greater likelihood of conservative influence on a wider range of policy issues.  A petulant rejection of the party’s now presumptive nominee does not enhance conservative prospects.

Today, one of our most compelling problems is the undermining of our national sovereignty. Through his proposals and observations, it is clear that Trump recognizes that the United States must preserve its sovereignty. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton supports arrangements under which our Pacific trading partners, such as Indonesia, would be able to not only purchase US based factories but to displace American workers and staff those factories with Indonesian citizens.

How does one characterize Trump’s opposition to such a proposal? If, as many would say, Trump opposes “free trade” but does so in order to protect American sovereignty does that make him anti-conservative? Or does his recognition of the importance of our national sovereignty constitute an element of conservatism or, at least, his support of a constitutional principle?

At the same time, how does one characterize Trump’s recognition of the need for secure frontiers? This is certainly a tribute to his commitment to protect our national security but is it any less ,also, a feature of conservatism?

One of the bright spots in national polling as of this time is the popular identification of Trump as the candidate best qualified to deal with what is most often cited as the overwhelming issue in this election: the economy. Trump’s business acumen, his creation of jobs, and his innovative approaches to the economy are consistent with the conservative notions of a free economy. Trump’s identification with some trade restrictions does not alter his important role as an exponent of conservative economic principles.

Finally, as America feels the impact of shrill anti-Christian rhetoric and court decisions which undermine freedom of religion, it is crucial to recognize that when Trump says we will be able to say “Merry Christmas,” this is not a trivial matter. It is an emphatic statement about our rights as Christians to express our beliefs without fear of retribution. When Biblical passages are denounced as “hate speech,” we are facing the very real prospect of discrimination and legal reprisals against Christians who express their faith. As conservatives, we have an obligation to resist efforts by the federal government to suppress Christianity. When on the night of the Indiana victory, Trump praised Liberty University’s Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr., he was giving a clear message about where he stands on religious freedom.

Some the most urgent problems we face at this time cannot be described in a clear conservative-liberal dichotomy. Rather they call attention to a need to address problems affecting our national survival. Even if a Trump presidency might embody element of what some would call pragmatism or even populism, an administration guided by national interests and common sense is more likely to take a conservative path on vital issues.

Consider the consequences of a Clinton electoral victory. Imagine a Clinton foreign policy, her subordination of U.S. interests to international bodies, her observation that Biblical teachings inhibit the ability of women to get heath treatment, her use of the Department of State to enrich the coffers of the Clinton Foundation, and her consistent denigration of conservative principles and limited government should prompt genuine conservatives to do all that they can to prevent her from becoming president.

The 2016 presidential election is likely to be the most consequential of the century. Its outcome will likely govern the selection three Supreme Court appointments as well as numerous other federal judgeships, it will determine whether or not our national sovereignty continues to be stripped away and if the federal bureaucracy will intensify its vilification of conservatives and Christians. In fact, it will affect our ability to have free elections decided by legitimately cast votes of U.S. citizens. In short, it is so consequential that a failure to participate is simply not conservative.


Stephen R. Bowers, Ph.D. is a professor of government in the Helms School of Government at Liberty University. Professor Bowers is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.

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