Earlier this week Steve Deace wrote an excellent Washington Times column suggesting that conservatives face a fundamental choice when confronted with the 17-person GOP presidential field and the emergence of Donald Trump as the leader in the polls. Deace said the choice is whether conservatives are going to make their peace with Trump as the standard-bearer for the movement despite his various deficiencies and lack of conservative pedigree, or to consolidate their support behind another candidate in the race.
Deace has endorsed Ted Cruz as that candidate, and I’ll admit in an element of full disclosure (as readers of this column have doubtless surmised by now) that I’m moving in the same direction.
But since it’s still early enough to speculate, and since during the current silly season the idea of Trump as the GOP standard bearer is a little more entertaining and ripe for spitballing than the idea of Cruz (yes, it’s also a good deal more terrifying), in this piece we’ll go the opposite direction and discuss how The Donald might entice the conservatives to which Deace is referring aboard his bandwagon.
Because at this point it should be obvious that the Republican Establishment is in no position to pick the party’s nominee. It parked an enormous sum of money in Jeb Bush’s campaign, and it is now clear that Jeb Bush possesses nothing of the skill required to win a national race in this cycle. Bush is boring, he reflects the thinking of a more placid time, he seems to have a slight disdain for the voters he’s trying to attract, and he can’t stop making statements which even under reasonable examination irritate the audience. Now Bush is attempting to bury Trump under a mountain of attacks, but every $100,000 spent on empty attack spots can be put to waste by a single Trump tweet generating earned media. Bush can’t beat Trump in a publicity war; not when the latter has honed his skills against celebrity trolls for two dozen years.
And beyond Bush, who? Scott Walker and Marco Rubio, who are both perfectly plausible fusion candidates with appeal both to the Chamber of Commerce crowd and the conservative wing of the party, have fizzled. John Kasich is hopelessly implausible; the idea that a panderer to the Black Lives Matter crowd who defends the Obamacare Medicaid expansion as his personal path to heaven is a viable GOP nominee is little short of comic. Chris Christie? Come on.
No, this year it’s going to be conservatives who decide the nominee. Conservatives will either galvanize around Cruz or perhaps one of the other non-politician candidates like Carly Fiorina or Ben Carson, or they’ll accept Trump as the standard-bearer.
To accept The Donald, with his myriad apostasies, would be to accept style over substance. This is a difficult task for Trump — so far, he’s winning by making himself the antithesis of everything the Democrat media has forced American politics to be. He apologizes for nothing, he belittles his critics, he makes gaffes in machine-gun fashion and then runs through the firestorm they cause by doubling down, he mixes gobsmacking arrogance with unpretentious language, he addresses issues thought by the media elite to be taboo…and the public simply cannot get enough.
But countless pundits and media wags have pointed out (as Bush is currently doing), rightly, that Trump can’t claim any connection to conservatism. He’s a big fan of eminent domain. He’s lousy on abortion. His ideas on taxes are heterodox for a Republican, to say the least. He’s given lots of money to indefensible causes and politicians. And so on.
As a result, few in the conservative movement are really taking Trump seriously, and so far no one should. If he doesn’t fix that at some point, he’s going to either fade away when the novelty of his campaign wears off or he’ll fall victim to Deace’s suggestion that conservatives consolidate elsewhere.
How to bridge that gap? Fairly simple, actually. Trump makes deals with people, doesn’t he? Just propose a deal with the Right.
What Trump ought to do is say something like “I know you aren’t convinced that I believe the same things you do. And I could tell you that in the past I’ve said and done lots of things you probably wouldn’t agree with, but as I’ve said some of them were said and done because I had to play the game with Democrat politicians to get things done and others were said and done because being from New York City you just don’t even get exposed to conservative philosophy like you do elsewhere in the country.
“And the more I go around and talk to people, the more I see and hear of conservatism as you guys practice and believe it, the more attracted I am to it.
“I tell you these things, and they might make you feel good but you’re not sold by them. I get that. You keep electing these politicians who tell you how conservative they are, and you never actually get what you bought. You’ve been burned by practically everybody since Reagan, and the country keeps getting sold down the river by both parties. I don’t blame you for not trusting what some guy running for office says.
“So rather than try to tell you I’m a conservative just like you I’m not going to waste your time. You say I’m not a conservative? Fine. I won’t argue the point.
“Instead, let’s just say that I recognize it’s in my interest, if I want to be president, to govern that way. The country needs somebody who will roll back eight years of abuses and stupidity that Obama has given us, and the federal government has to be brought under control. To be successful as a country, we need that. We need a Reagan, and thankfully we have a Reagan as an example. I’m running for president because I know I can be that.
“So I will make you a deal. You give me this nomination, and you help me beat Hillary Clinton or whatever other ridiculous candidate the Democrats nominate, and I will govern the way you want to see the country governed. I will get the federal government off your back, I will clean out agencies and programs that don’t work, I will let the states reclaim a lot of power the feds have taken away from them, I will give you judges who understand the Constitution, I will bring in a tax code and regulatory scheme that makes the economy catch fire, I will rebuild the military and our prestige around the world and I will make sure we have trade and immigration that actually benefits us rather than making things worse for regular folks.
“You may not think I have a pedigree to do those things, and I won’t argue that point. I’ll say it doesn’t matter. I’m making them part of a proposal to you; we’re making a deal here. I know that if I break my promise then I don’t get re-elected and I shouldn’t.
“And believe it or not, you can trust me a hell of a lot more than these politicians who supposedly have these deep-seated convictions. We all know those convictions go out the door the minute some big-money donor calls. The donors own these guys. They count more than you do. But unlike the politicians in this race, I’m not beholden to those donors. We do this deal and I’m beholden to you. You’re the people I’m making a deal with, not the fatcats.
“And I fulfill my part of a deal I make. That’s how I got as rich as I am. I negotiate great deals, and then I follow through. I’m negotiating with you, and it’s in my interest to follow through and do what I’m saying I’ll do. I have a lot better record in doing that than the politicians, and you know it; if you didn’t agree then I wouldn’t be leading these polls with the other non-politicians coming in next.
“So that’s my offer. You accept it and help me win this thing, and I will give you what you’ve been looking for since Reagan. You don’t, and you get President Hillary, or President Bernie, or God knows what.”
Does such an open offer work? It’s hard to say. Elements of that appeal Trump has already made, and to an extent he’s already put this forth as an essential value proposition. But if he’d speak directly and put it to the conservative base of the GOP in the form of a transaction, he might have the opportunity to bypass some of the criticism being rightfully thrown his way.
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