What does it mean to be a conservative in Donald Trump’s Republican Party?

As time goes on it is clear that the Republican Party is now really the Donald Trump Party. Large majorities of affiliated and leaning Republicans support Trump strongly, either because they really, really believe in what he says and does, no matter what; or in the case of many Republican elected officials, because they are really, really afraid of what the Trump base might do to them if they challenge Trump.

William Safire, in his Political Dictionary, explains that “many who call themselves conservative resist most governmental regulation of the economy. They favor free trade and local and state action over federal action and emphasize fiscal responsibility, most notably in the form of budgets balanced by spending restraint and frown mightily on Republican political figures who raise taxes or seem profligate in non-defense expenditures.”

That definition doesn’t seem to apply to too many of the Republican elected or party leadership class in 2018. As the late great Republican Attorney General John Mitchell once advised, “watch what we do, not what we say.” Republican leadership would generally say they are conservatives. But let’s look at what they do.

I know, Trumpkin conservatives will want to note the Gorsuch appointment and that of other judges; the roll back of regulations; the tax cut. There are also Trump’s concessions to placate the positions of the conservatives whose main emphasis is on social issues. It’s fun to watch the likes of Jerry Falwell Jr. and others who emphasize “family values” twist in knots to rationalize Trump’s lack of ethics or a moral compass.

The bottom line here is that being a conservative ain’t what it used to be. Fiscal restraint is out. The larger the national debt, it seems, the better. Former Republican Senator and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg has observed that when asked if there are any deficit hawks left in Congress, the answer is “there are not even any ‘deficit pigeons’ in this Congress.”

The tax cuts approved by the conservative Republican Congress and Trump will, over the next ten years, increase the national debt by more than one trillion dollars. The 2018 budget that Congress and Trump approved last month will increase the annual federal deficit by another two trillion dollars in the next ten years. Starting in 2020 annual federal deficits will top one trillion dollars. So when you get a chance, thank your children and grandchildren for paying for the extra few borrowed dollars that the tax cut will put in your paycheck.

In the very near future one of the consequences of what the Republicans in Congress and the White House have done will result in interest payments on the national debt exceeding one trillion dollars per year!

A real conservative would note that it is hypocritical to now vote on a “balanced budget amendment,” as the House is preparing to do, right after voting to raise the national debt by more than one trillion dollars a year for as many years as the eye can see.

Senator Gregg notes “the bill passed by the Congress and signed by the president sets a fundamentally new tone for the Republican Party… If the Republicans lose control of the Congress later this year, they need look no further then this abandonment of the core purpose of the party. They have no claim any longer to being the party of fiscally responsible government, or to being good stewards of the government and its fiscal health. The Republican Congress now represents a party with very few significant defining principles other than the promotion of the president’s impulses at that moment.”

Conservatives used to be committed to free trade, but now that the Trump Republican Party has decided that trade wars are the way to go, where is the old conservative leadership on the issue? The answer is that they are hiding behind the soybean crop in the Midwest that so strongly supported Donald Trump two years ago. Any opposition to the proposed trade war among Republican representatives and senators is muted. Trump defenders say that the trade war stance is just a negotiating ploy. But if everyone knows it is a ploy, then where is the negotiating advantage?

And what about that stuff about “draining the swamp?” There is more swamp water in the Trump Cabinet Room than in the Everglades in Florida. Issues that in previous administrations would have led to the immediate termination of cabinet officers are just another day at the office for the Trump administration. Of course, when the boss is enriching himself and his family directly or by encouraging people who have interests in federal policy to use Trump facilities, it probably seems to the cabinet that such things are okay. The fish stinks from the head.

Here is a brief summary of some of the “swamp draining” in the Trump administration:

  • The purchase of fancy furniture for Ben Carson, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, who is in charge of housing policy while cutting housing subsidies for the poor; with additional expensive furniture for Environmental Protection Administrator Scott Pruitt.
  • Permitting cabinet officers including Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Veteran Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, and Environmental Protection Administrator Pruitt to abuse travel privileges with wasteful spending.
  • Allowing cabinet officers including in particular Pruitt and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to create multi-million dollar personal security details.
  • Allowing Pruitt to cut himself a deal with a lobbyist for housing in Washington.
  • Allowing Pruitt to build a $40,000 “cone of silence” phone booth in his office.
  • Allowing Pruitt to give political appointees massive pay raises outside of the personnel rules of the government.

If someone is truly a conservative in 2018 they would be shouting “enough already.” They would be saying repeal some of the tax cuts that lined the pockets of billionaires and drop some of the spending. They would say that any administration official traveling first class or in private jets; or ordering fancy office furniture or technology; or traveling around with security details; or zipping through traffic with lights flashing to get to a restaurant would be GONE, immediately.

The leadership in the Trump/Republican Party call themselves conservatives. They have given conservatism a bad name by their actions. The party that bragged about their overflowing agenda of ideas has none today. Their agenda is simply whatever comes from a compilation of Donald Trump’s rambling tweets. That is what it means to be a conservative in Donald Trump’s Republican Party in 2018.

4 thoughts on “What does it mean to be a conservative in Donald Trump’s Republican Party?

  1. Ken,
    Your commentary about how conservatives view “Trump’s Republican Party demonstrates (again) your failure to understand both Republicans and Conservatives.
    Having been a long time Republican before I registered as a Conservative 7 years ago, let me offer some help.
    At his core, Trump is neither a Republican nor a Conservative.
    He is a populist. Comparisons are always imprecise but Trump’s views on government are closer to Andrew Jackson or even Teddy Rosevelt than any Republican of recent vintage.
    There’s plenty to cheer from a Conservative’s perspective.
    Rebuilding the military to secure our national defense is a core conservative value. Thankfully,
    we are on our way to repair the damage caused by the Obama sequester.
    The historic tax cuts on both labor and capital, the best since Reagan, are making our economy stronger now and for years to come. Very conservative, indeed.
    Yes, Gorsuch was a ten strike and so are all of the Trump federal court picks. I sense you yearn for Judges to legislate from the bench. Well, Conservatives don’t. Sorry.
    As Obama said: “Elections have consequences.”
    The Wall is not a conservative issue. It’s a populist issue. Many conservatives don’t want to spend $25 billion on a 2000+mile Wall. Populists do.
    Populists want a secure border with no illegal immigration.
    Ben Carson and EPA Director Pruitt aren’t conservatives either. They are pragmatists. Both are doing outstanding work- I never excuse nor defend wasteful spending. That will get fixed.The issues you referenced need correction but are hardly major.
    The Omnibus Bill was classic Swamp Food for all parties in Washington. Yes, the Military got funded but much more should have been cut. This bill shows that the Republican Congress is hardly conservative.
    Not mentioned in your blog is the upcoming Inspector General report is due soon. I’ll bet it shows that Hillary committed multiple felonies worthy of serious jail time.
    That would be more significant than debating how conservative Trump might be- don’t you think?
    Russ

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  2. What it means to me is the abject cowards willfully bend over the populist barrel because they are, well, cowards.

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