The stories of a GOP “civil war” flood the media. This, that or another conservative isn’t endorsing Donald Trump. Or they are struggling to endorse Donald Trump. Or, like Speaker Paul Ryan, they’d like to get there but they aren’t there yet. The Washington Post has even published a list titled:
The 10 Republicans who hate Donald Trump the most
It serves nothing to be sarcastic here. With the presidency — not to mention the Supreme Court — on the line, there’s nothing to be cute about. The cold, hard fact of the matter is that the voters of the Republican Party have made it plain. They have chosen Donald Trump. Yes, just like Mitt Romney in 2012 and John McCain at the conclusion of the 2008 GOP primaries, more people voted for his opponents than Trump. (Although I heard no one in 2012 or 2008 suggesting #Never Romney or #Never McCain, much less that there should be a third-party.) So with the hard-to-miss fact of life that Donald Trump will be the GOP nominee now at hand, as someone who has supported The Donald from the get-go, let me respectfully try and begin to address some of the issues I see being raised about Donald by conservative leaders. Let me do so in “open letter” form the better to address everyone without singling out anyone.
Dear Fellow Conservative:
With the withdrawals of Senator Cruz and Governor Kasich, the Republican primary and state convention selection process is at an end. The voters have spoken — and they have chosen Donald Trump. Over the course of the last several months, a number of our friends and colleagues have had the opportunity to voice their objections to Donald. The voters — and yes many of them self-identified to pollsters as “very conservative” or “conservative” — have made their decision. Now that this decision has been made, let’s discuss some of the objections I have heard from you, and along the way add some of my concerns about the state of the “conservative movement” and the Republican Party.
Let’s start with issues.
The other day the Washington Post published this article titled:
Trump spurs some conservative leaders to step back from the GOP
The piece, co-written by Robert Costa who formerly was with National Review and has a good grasp of conservative thinking, included this:
Indeed, Trump and Ryan are miles apart. Ryan is the architect of sweeping proposed changes to Medicare and Social Security; Trump has pledged not to touch either. Ryan supports a muscular foreign policy; Trump is proudly non-interventionist. Ryan champions free trade; Trump is an avowed opponent. Ryan defends religious freedom; Trump wants to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the country. Ryan advocates bipartisan immigration reform and opposes mass deportation; Trump wants to build a wall at the Mexican border and deport the roughly 11 million immigrants who are living in the United States illegally.
But are Trump and Ryan — and Trump and others in the GOP leadership — really “miles apart” on all the issues of the day? Let’s walk through some of these issues one by one:
• Medicare and Social Security: The Post says “Ryan is the architect of sweeping proposed changes to Medicare and Social Security; Trump has pledged not to touch either.” Wait a minute. A check here on Paul Ryan’s own website says this: “Medicare is the cornerstone on which all other government health care programs rest……We have to save Medicare.” And on Social Security? Ryan’s website says this: “As Speaker of the House, one of my top priorities is to preserve the Social Security safety net and make sure the program remains solvent for future generations.” Not to put too fine a point on it, but it is clear that both Trump and Ryan are saying they want to save Medicare and Social Security. To the extent differences arise it is over process — not the goal. “How to save” is decidedly different than “Should they be saved.” Process differences are the stuff of life on Capitol Hill within both the Republican and Democratic parties. Where the divide comes is over goals. In this case, both Trump and Ryan agree: Save Medicare and Social Security. This is hardly the stuff of a Grand Canyon-size political difference. Both men are in fact on the same page.
• Foreign Policy: The Post says: “Ryan supports a muscular foreign policy; Trump is proudly non-interventionist.” Let’s dissect. Over here in Foreign Policy is an April article with the title:
Paul Ryan: ‘I’m Not a Neocon’
The piece says, in part, this:
House Speaker Paul Ryan distanced himself from what has been the leading strand of Republican foreign policy orthodoxy for more than a decade, arguing that the party’s neoconservatives should develop a more “limited view” of American military power after the long and costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I’m not a neocon,” he told a group of reporters Thursday following his first trip to the Middle East as speaker of the House. “You have to think of these conflicts as very long lasting big time commitments. They’re not quick and they’re not clean and they’re not antiseptic.”
And what is Donald Trump saying? In his April 27th foreign policy speech (transcript here) Trump makes clear that he is opposed to “the nation-building business” — or, in Ryan’s language, he believes the U.S. should take a more “limited view” of American military power. In fact, the runner-up to Trump in the primaries, Senator Cruz, is noted in that Foreign Policyarticle as also favoring “foreign policy positions that would shelve the loftier neoconservative agenda in favor of a harder-edged, but much more limited, American role on the world stage.”
Thus? Thus what we see here in the cold light of print are Speaker Ryan, Donald Trump, and Ted Cruz all agreeing with… Ronald Reagan. As noted in this space before, in the aftermath of the bombing of the Marine barracks in 1983 Lebanon that killed 243 Marines on a peacekeeping mission, Reagan would later write this in his memoirs (bold print in the original from Reagan):
In the months and years that followed, our experience in Lebanon led to the adoption by the administration of a set of principles to guide America in the application of military force abroad, and I would recommend it to future presidents. The policy we adopted included these principles:
1. The United States should not commit its forces to military action overseas unless the cause is vital to our national interest.
2. If the decision is made to commit our forces to combat abroad, it must be done with the clear intent and support needed to win. It should not be a halfway or tentative commitment, and there must be clearly defined and realistic objectives.
3. Before we commit our troops to combat, there must be reasonable assurance that the cause we are fighting for and the actions we will take will have the support of the American people and Congress. (We all felt that the Vietnam War had turned into such a tragedy because military action had been undertaken without sufficient assurances that the American people were behind it.)
4. Even after all these other tests are met, our troops should be committed to combat abroad onlyas a last resort, when no other choice is available.
In other words? What Donald Trump said in his foreign policy speech, what Paul Ryan said in this Foreign Policy article, and what Ronald Reagan has said of his own foreign policy that he would “recommend… to future presidents” is as close to identical as one can get in these kind of discussions. It is indeed at variance with the Bush “neo-con” view of roaming the world to set up democracies by force, but it is decidedly not at variance with Ronald Reagan. It is entirely possible that the Reagan world view offended the Bushies. It wouldn’t be the first Reagan belief that had this effect. But to imply that Trump’s foreign policy views — and Ryan’s — are wildly different, not to mention somehow “out of the mainstream” of conservative thought is simply not a fact.
• Religious Freedom: The Post says: “Ryan defends religious freedom; Trump wants to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the country.” One can only shake one’s head at this. There is nowhere in evidence a single word from Donald Trump that attacks religious freedom in America. Not one. And I have to say the Ryan understanding here is wildly off base. The link provided by the Post goes to this headline:
Ryan, McConnell denounce Trump plan to bar Muslims from the U.S.
The story reads in part:
“Freedom of religion is a fundamental constitutional principle. It’s a founding principle of this country,” Ryan told reporters following a closed-door morning meeting at the Republican National Committee. “This is not conservatism. What was proposed yesterday is not what this party stands for. And more importantly, it’s not what this country stands for.”
I confess I was dumbfounded at this Ryan answer. The issue of a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country has zero to do with religious freedom and everything to do with a broken immigration system. It is a serious problem vividly illustrated by the San Bernardino murders in which a Muslim woman from a foreign country intent on jihad was admitted into America without any kind of serious background check. Fourteen Americans were killed at an office Christmas party as a result. Say again, this assault took place at a Christmas party — which is to say a party celebrating a Christian tradition. A celebration of religious freedom. The real violation of religious freedom here was on the part of a U.S. government that did not protect Americans exercising their constitutional right to religious freedom. Instead, it incompetently allowed a radical Islamic dedicated to depriving Americans of their own religious freedom into the country in the first place. And to be clear, contrary to what Speaker Ryan stunningly seems to be implying here, there is no non-citizen of the United States of any faith, nationality, gender, or race outside of the United States who has any kind of constitutional right to be allowed in to the United States. Again, the line separating Ryan and some conservatives from Trump on this is surely nothing more than semantics — one hopes. Unless, of course, there really are conservatives (Ryan?) arguing that all non-Americans have a constitutional right to enter the country — a decidedly un-conservative expansion of “rights” that would make the most left-leaning Supreme Court Justice proud.
• Illegal Immigration: Says the Post: “Ryan advocates bipartisan immigration reform and opposes mass deportation; Trump wants to build a wall at the Mexican border and deport the roughly 11 million immigrants who are living in the United States illegally.” On this, the differences are indeed plain. But again. Mr. Ryan’s position, and to the degree it is the position of other conservatives and Republicans, has been flatly rejected by Republican and conservative voters. There is not a single American who is not descended from immigrants. No one, least of all Donald Trump — he who is married to an immigrant and is the son and grandson of immigrants — is “anti-immigrant.” The problem is “illegal immigration.” Conservatives and Republicans in the base of the party have had it with those who are “jumping the line” to flood the U.S. while others wait patiently — for years — and follow immigration law to the letter. The notion that the Mexican government is either incompetent, unable, or unwilling to deal with their side of the border — sending their own citizens to America en masse to flood the health, education, and welfare systems of various states — not to mention take jobs of lower income blacks and American citizens of Hispanic descent — infuriates. Most assuredly when they see the story of the African-American Jamiel Shaw Jr., a 17-year old scholar and athletic star being sought out by Stanford and Rutgers and learn, as they have, that he was shot to death execution style by an illegal immigrant gang member — for the crime of simply walking home — Americans are livid. Ditto the powerful story of Kate Steinle, the vivacious young woman shot to death in front of her own father in the “Sanctuary City” of San Francisco by an illegal who had been repeatedly deported. Are there truly conservatives — Paul Ryan included — who are going to defend this? Really? If so, no doubt, there is a difference.
One of the reasons for the anger of the GOP base is the very real sense that the GOP Establishment has double standards. One for regular Americans, one for them. A case in point, this Breitbart story from December that reveals Speaker Ryan’s year end omnibus provided no funding for completion of the “700-mile border fence in the 2006 Secure Fence Act.” But… but… yes indeed, Breitbart reports:
As Breitbart News’s photographic documentation reveals, Ryan’s home is surrounded by a tall border fence reinforced by equally high bushes — ensuring both privacy and security. Moreover, the fence is manned by an on-duty agent who guards his property’s perimeter. Upon even the slightest appearance of any unusual activity — such as a 5’2″ female taking a photograph of the fence — Ryan’s border agent will deploy into action to ensure the perimeter’s sovereignty.”
No one is begrudging Ryan and his family personal security. Donald Trump had security long before he ran for president. The difference here is that the perception is that the Ryans of the GOP Establishment insist on security for their own family — but not those Americans who are not rich, famous, or powerful. What about security for the Jamiel Shaw family and the right of their son to walk home safely without being shot to death by an illegal immigrant gang member? What about security protecting Kate Steinle’s family and their right to simply stroll the streets of San Francisco without seeing their daughter shot to death by an illegal? What about the security of Americans living along the southern border? This is exactly the kind of thing — the perception of massive hypocrisy and double-standards for the “ruling class” — that fuels the Trump rebellion. There is, respectfully, no way conservatives should be on the wrong side of this issue.
One suggestion here for these conservatives who balk at the Trump deportation plan? Americans have learned in this campaign that Trump’s plan to deport illegals has in fact already been done years ago — by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. As this story from 2006in the Christian Science Monitor illustrates, the program, inelegantly and deeply (today) politically incorrectly named “Operation Wetback,” was a success. It was certainly seen so in the day and was supported in the day — repeatedly — by the New York Times, the paper lavishing favorable attention on Ike’s program which it portrayed as stopping an “invasion” of illegals who were being used essentially as slaves in this country. Years later even Farm Workers’ hero Cesar Chavez strongly opposed illegal immigration. Suddenly there are those who, unaware of Ike’s efforts, are agog and aghast at this basic story in American history. Suggestion? Congress is funding a Commission that is studying an Eisenhower Memorial. Recently they denied funding to the Commission for the memorial because there is an on-going unsettled dispute on the design, but the Commission itself is still funded until the dispute is resolved. At which point, presumably, Congress will vote the funds for the memorial. If there are Republicans in Congress who are so appalled at Trump’s Eisenhower-inspired plan — then immediately defund and disband the Commission. Kill the Eisenhower Memorial plans permanently. And while they’re at it, strip Ike’s good name from the Kennedy Center’s “Eisenhower Theater.” If Dwight Eisenhower was a racist and a bigot, then strip him of these honors right now. As Reagan might say: “Go ahead, make my day.”
And last — for now — if not least.
• Trade: If conservatives believe Donald Trump’s position on trade is somehow “non-conservative” I suggest they read this 1988 Cato study titled: The Reagan Record On Trade: Rhetoric Vs. Reality. And while they are at it (hat tip to Breitbart’s Julia Hahn) they can take a gander at this piece from 2011 on Trump, Reagan, and the Republican history on trade written by Robert Lighthizer, Reagan’s deputy U.S. Trade Representative.
So. What we have here is a realization that on issue after issue (and yes, this includes abortion) Donald Trump is not only in the mainstream of conservatism, he is on a number of key issues exactly where those left-wing radicals Ronald Reagan and Dwight Eisenhower were before him. And on another issue, religious freedom Speaker Ryan and others appear to be making up a constitutional right to enter the U.S. out of whole cloth. Not to mention breezily coasting along refusing to fund a fence on the southern border in that Ryan Omnibus while making sure that they personally have a fence to protect their own family — illustrating exactly why so many millions believe GOP elites have double-standards.
Here’s my concern. I have often quoted in this space Ronald Reagan’s December, 1976 interview with the New York Times in which he stated that in the post-Gerald Ford era he intended to rebuild the GOP by bringing in likeminded Democrats and Independents as well as conservative Republicans. He also accused the GOP Establishment of the day of being a “fraternal order” — a private club of insiders — instead of a political party.
I am concerned that the modern conservative movement is in danger of following that fateful path. An awful lot of Democrats and Independents have flooded the GOP open primaries this year to vote for Donald Trump — just as Ronald Reagan invited them to do in 1980. Not to mention that a lot of evangelicals — a key component of the Reagan coalition — have supported Trump as well. It is nothing but bad news if in fact the conservative movement is, unintentionally to be sure, drifting into the “fraternal order” category. Becoming not a movement but a private club where we all know the secret handshake and the code words — but, like the GOP Establishment, begin to routinely lose elections because we are unable to win the argument with the larger electorate.
Is there much for conservatives to discuss as we proceed to a Trump nomination? Yes.
But let’s be clear. The GOP electorate — and that includes a lot of conservatives — have spoken. And anyone who wanders off in search of the unicorn that is a viable third party is, no matter what they say to the contrary, about the business of electing Hillary Clinton.
In the famous words of Barry Goldwater: “Let’s grow up, conservatives.”