When I first saw Donald Trump on television in the late 1980s, he seemed like little more than a braggart. I would come to dislike him even more when, a few years later, I read Trumped! The Inside Story of the Real Donald Trump — His Cunning Rise & Spectacular Fall. Written by John R. O’Donnell, former CEO of Trump Plaza Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City, the Trump that we have seen on the campaign trail was all there in O’Donnell’s account: the erratic temper, impulsiveness, bullying, petulance, and myopia.
Thus, it is distasteful, to say the least, to argue that what activists and policy wonks in the conservative and libertarian movements — people who have spent years committed to individual liberty, limited government, and a strong national defense — should do now is reach out to Trump and encourage him to take up their cause. But, after Trump’s performance on Super Tuesday, the options are limited.
It is still possible that Sen. Ted Cruz or Sen. Marco Rubio will be the nominee, but the chances of that are now exceedingly low. Creating a third party is also an option, but getting it up and running in time for November is a near impossible task and would probably only spilt the Republican vote, resulting in President Hillary Clinton. Sitting out the election and letting Hillary win by default is another option, and one for which a strong moral and practical case can be made. And it might be one with minimal repercussions if there weren’t a Supreme Court vacancy to fill. With Clinton as president, five liberals would sit on the Court, creating havoc long after Clinton leaves office. The only way to prevent that is with a President Trump.
The conventional wisdom right now is that Trump can’t beat Clinton because his negatives are too high. But the conventional wisdom also said that Trump’s candidacy would either fizzle out or self-destruct. After South Carolina, the conventional wisdom was that Trump’s vote ceiling was about 35 percent and that Rubio would benefit much more than Trump from Jeb Bush dropping out of the race. The Nevada Caucus put the lie to that. If the conventional wisdom were an NBA team, it would be the Philadelphia 76ers — although, in fairness, the Sixers have won eight games.
Thus, Trump could very well reach the Oval Office, and it would be unwise to let him do so without an attempt to influence him toward views that are consistent with expanding liberty, reducing government, and keeping America strong abroad. As the New York Times reported a few weeks ago, the Republican “establishment” is more than willing to woo him at the expense of Cruz. It is time for conservatives and libertarians to engage in a wooing of their own.
Fortunately, it appears a few already have. Art Laffer and Stephen Moore are rumored to have advised Trump on tax policy, while William Bennett has conferred with him on education policy. Whether this means Trump is open to hearing from other conservative and libertarian voices — well, who knows given his mercurial personality? But it is enough of a reason to make an attempt.
Here is a partial list of issues that activists and wonks should raise with Trump:
Rule of Law: This will undoubtedly be the most difficult issue to convince Trump to promote, given the demagogic aspects of his temperament. Once in office, Trump will no doubt want to issue executive orders, regardless of what the law says, every time he doesn’t get his way. It is imperative to show Trump how this behavior in the Obama Administration has hurt our country. Undoubtedly, Obama’s lawlessness has been a big reason why citizen contempt for government is at an all time high. It has also hurt us economically. Businesses have a hard time planning future activity when the law can change on a President’s whim. If Trump is serious about “Making America Great Again,” then he needs to know that we can’t be great without rule of law.
Immigration: This may be a bit of surprise since building a wall on the Southern border is part and parcel of Trump’s campaign. But Trump has previously said that he “would get [illegal aliens] out and then have an expedited way of getting them back into the country so they can be legal.” That is amnesty, and will only encourage more people to come to this country illegally. Conservatives should push, albeit gently, Trump to drop that part of his plan.
Health Care: At present it seems Trump wants to eliminate Obamacare’s individual mandate but keep the mandate that health insurers must take people with pre-existing conditions. That will incentivize people to only purchase health insurance when they are sick, causing health insurance prices to skyrocket. There are plenty of good ideas on how to help people with pre-existing conditions, such as letting people use tax credits and health savings accounts to purchase pre-existing condition insurance and having a national high-risk pool to transition to such a system. There is no shortage of liberty-minded health care policy wonks who can reach out to Trump on this.
Abortion: Can Trump be persuaded to stop saying that Planned Parenthood does good work? Getting him to stop saying that, commit to stopping taxpayer dollars from going to that vile organization, and speak out against late-term abortion — well, it’s worth a try.
Entitlements: Trump thinks he can reduce the drag entitlements will have on our society by eliminating “waste, fraud, and abuse.” Conservatives and libertarians need to emphasize with Trump that Medicare and Social Security are headed for crisis even if you wring every last wasted cent out them. Sorry, but you can’t “Make America Great Again” when entitlements threaten to gobble up more and more of the federal budget and lead to deficits as far as the eye can see.
Foreign Policy: It’s hard to know where to start here. Trump’s admiration for Vladimir Putin, his wanting Russia to fight ISIS in Syria, his vowing not to take sides in Arab-Israeli peace talks… the policy wonks who try to help Trump here have a herculean task.
There is one other thing that conservative and libertarian activists and wonks should emphasize with Trump. Blogger “Ace of Spades” stated that his “problem with Trump is that he is a dealmaker trying to make a sale. Right now he’s trying to make a deal with conservatives — so this is the very most conservative we’ll ever see him. If he gets the nomination, he now starts working on making the second part of the deal with the other party in the negotiations, the general public.” In short, teach Trump how to phrase these conservative and libertarian policies so that he can appeal to moderates and independents during the general election. Otherwise, he’ll take the path of least resistance heading to November, adopting liberal ideas to broaden his appeal.
Economist Thomas Sowell recently noted, “On the campaign trail, Donald Trump’s theatrical talents, including his bluster and bombast, may be enough to conceal his shallow understanding of very deep problems. But that will not cut it in the White House, where you cannot clown or con your way out of problems, and where the stakes are matters of life and death.”
Can conservative and libertarian activists and policy wonks help Trump become someone of more substance before January of next year? Given Trump’s personality, I’m not optimistic. But, at this point, it is the least bad of all the options we face.