Commentary Magazine

Donald Trump is Many Things. Conservative Isn’t One of Them

Image by © DOMINICK REUTER/Reuters/Corbis.

To better appreciate how philosophically erratic Donald Trump has been over the years, consider this: Less than three years ago, Donald Trump was criticizing Governor Mitt Romney’s comments about “self-deportation.” Today, Mr. Trump is advocating forced (and mass) deportation.

The Trump record on this matter is worth reviewing. A few days ago on NBC’s Meet the Press, Mr. Trump endorsed mass deportation of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in America.

“They have to go,” he said.

Then, two nights ago, Fox News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly asked  Mr. Trump if he envisions “federal police kicking in the doors in barrios around the country dragging families out and putting them on a bus” as a means to deport everyone he intends to deport. Trump answered, “We have to start a process where we take back our country. Our country is going to hell. We have to start a process, Bill, where we take back our country.” And what a process that will be.

Now let’s go back to just after the 2012 election when Trump criticized Mitt Romney’s “crazy policy of self-deportation, which was maniacal. It sounded as bad as it was, and he lost all of the Latino vote … He lost the Asian vote. He lost everybody who is inspired to come into this country.”

That same year, Trump said:

For people that have been here for years that have been hard-workers, have good jobs, they’re supporting their family — it’s very, very tough to just say, ”By the way, 22 years, you have to leave. Get out.” … I have to tell you on a human basis, how do you throw somebody out that’s lived in this country for 20 years.

And just two years before that, this is what Trump had to say:

You have American interests hiring [illegal immigrants], absolutely. And many cases, they’re great workers. The biggest problem is you have great people come in from Mexico working crops and cutting lawns that I’m not sure a lot of Americans are going to take those jobs. That’s the dichotomy. That’s the problem. You have a lot of great people coming in doing a lot of work. And I’m not so sure that a lot of other people are doing that work, so it’s a very tough problem.

For those with inquiring minds, immigration is only one issue among many where Trump has shown massive inconsistencies, as Max Boot writes about here. As I’ve repeatedly pointed out – and will continue  to point out – Mr. Trump was a registered Democrat for most of the last decade. He gave large sums of money to leading progressive politicians, and he supported liberal policies on a whole range of matters, from health care to taxes to guns to abortion to drugs to much else. To this day, he is an opponent of entitlement reform and supports affirmative action.

(Mr. Trump’s effort to compare himself to Ronald Reagan is risible. Mr. Reagan was elected president in 1980. In 1964, he was a great champion for Barry Goldwater. He served as a successful, conservative governor of California for two terms. And he was one of the key figures in the creation of the modern American conservative movement. Donald Trump, on the other hand, was a registered Democrat when it was being led by John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid. Mr. Trump was a particularly big donor in elections that brought Pelosi and Reid to power. And he has shown no interest and made no contributions over the years to conservative philosophy and ideas.)

What’s fascinating to me is that for many Trump supporters, the kind of flip-flops and philosophical transgressions that would disqualify any other candidate many times over doesn’t apply to Trump. The question is: Why? What is it about Trump that causes some people on the right to suspend their critical judgments, renounce fidelity to conservative ideology and policies, and extend immunity to Trump in ways they would never to anyone else?

The answers vary person to person, of course. (It’s worth saying here that Trump’s support cuts across ideological lines. Warren Henry and Emily Ekins have written articles for The Federalist here and here examining who Trump supporters are.) But some measure of support for Trump on the right is clearly rooted in deep anger and disenchantment, resentment, and frustration.

This is a populist moment – and for them, Trump is Mr. Anti-Establishment. They see him as the confrontational outsider, unscripted and not politically correct, a person who can shake up the system. Donald Trump is The Great Disrupter. In addition, he knows how to “school” the “establishment” types and has their “number.” The enemy of my enemy is my friend. It’s time to burn down the village – in this case, Washington D.C. — to save the village. And if the man lighting the match is vulgar, inconsistent, and unprincipled, no matter. If in this cause those on the right end up defending and supporting what my Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Yuval Levin calls “the least conservative Republican presidential aspirant in living memory” – Donald Trump — so be it.

People are entitled to their anger, and they are entitled to support Mr. Trump. But here’s what they’re not entitled to: They cannot take conservatism, reinvent its meaning, and attach it to whatever cause or character they happen to identify with. Conservatism is a philosophy; it has a history and a core set of principles. It’s been shaped by towering intellectual figures. The effort by some on the right to disfigure conservatism in order to justify their support for Mr. Trump is unfortunate. It is also incoherent. Conservatism is not synonymous with alienation and resentments, crudity, and unfiltered rage.

People can support Donald Trump, but they cannot support him on conservative grounds.

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