Is Donald Trump conservative?
This week, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) has bashed Trump for insufficient conservatism. He explained, “Donald’s record does not match what he says as a candidate.” Cruz isn’t the only one. Last month, Rush Limbaugh said that Trump’s attacks on Cruz reflected the fact that he was not a “genuine conservative.” Mark Levin said in 2011, “Trump is NOT the real deal… He is not a conservative. He was happy to donate to Schumer, Weiner & Emanuel campaigns last year. He was pro-choice recently and now claims to be pro-life. He sounds more and more like Ross Perot.” Andrew Breitbart said at the time, “Of course he’s not a conservative. He was for Nancy Pelosi before he was against Nancy Pelosi.”
I don’t believe Trump is a conservative either; I’ve said that repeatedly. Full disclosure: I’ve also said that I would vote for Ted Cruz if the primaries took place today. I’ve also said that Trump channels conservative anger against the establishment brilliantly, and that he has become a vessel for much-needed conversations on immigration.
With all that said, it’s worthwhile exploring Trump’s worldview. To do that, we must separate two elements of that worldview: his current positions, and his historic positions. The first goes to supposed conservatism, and the second goes to credibility – even if he says he’s conservative today, should you believe him?
We’ll go through the issues here (thanks to Conservative Review for a handy guide to Trump’s positions as well). We report, you decide:
Immigration. After a career of flip-flopping on immigration (he ripped Mitt Romney in 2012 for being too harsh on illegal immigration and in 2013 said he hired illegals at his golf courses), Trump has famously taken the most right-wing position on illegal immigration in this race. I wrote about it when Trump released it on his website. Trump wants a wall, shutting down remittances garnered from illegal wages, and foreign aid cuts. He wants strong deportation policies and an end to birthright citizenship. Because many Republicans feel that the immigration issue is the prerequisite for any continuation of a small government republic, Trump has made hay on this issue.
Meanwhile, Trump flipped on Muslim refugees. Originally he said the U.S. would have to take in Syrian refugees; then he said he would take in no Muslim immigrants at all. That position has proved surprisingly durable with the conservative electorate.
Foreign Policy. Trump’s been all over the place here. He’s said we should leave the Islamic State to Russia and expressed sympathy for Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, but also said that we should “bomb the s***” out of ISIS. He has both said that he would topple Bashar Assad and that he would not arm the Syrian rebels. In the end, he said he had a great idea for defeating ISIS, but wouldn’t tell anyone what it was. He’s said that he wouldn’t immediately get rid of the Iran deal, but he stumped against the deal. He’s talked about how he admires China, but then explained he wants to put a 45 percent tariff on Chinese goods. Trump wants to expand the military, but how he would use that expanded military is far from clear.
Abortion. Trump says he’s pro-life. Bethany Blankley of Live Action News gives a solid roundup of the timeline:
1999: Trump says he is “very pro-choice” and said he wouldn’t ban partial birth abortion.
January 2015: Trump says he is “pro-life, with the caveats. You have to have the caveats.” What would those caveats be? He explains: “life of the mother, incest, and rape.” Asked repeatedly whether abortion outside of his “caveats” would be murder, he says, “it depends when.”
August 2015: Trump tells CNN’s Chris Cuomo, “Maybe some of the things [Planned Parenthood does] are good and I know a lot of things are bad… I mean, it’s like an abortion factory, frankly.” He then says he is pro-life and reiterates his “exceptions.” He tells Sean Hannity:
There’s two Planned Parenthoods, in a way. You have it as an abortion clinic. Now, that’s actually a fairly small part of what they do, but it’s a brutal part, and I’m totally against it. They also, however, service women. Maybe unless they stop with the abortions, we don’t do the funding for the stuff that we want. We have to help women. So we have to look at the positives, also, for Planned Parenthood.
Eventually he told Breitbart he’d oppose any government funding for Planned Parenthood.
During the first Republican debate, Trump says that he became pro-life sometime over the last few years, stating:
Friends of mine years ago were going to have a child, and it was going to be aborted. And it wasn’t aborted. And that child today is a total superstar, a great, great child. And I saw that. And I saw other instances. I am very, very proud to say that I am pro-life.
Jamie Weinstein of The Daily Caller asked Trump if he’d have become pro-life if the kid had been a “loser.” Trump said no.
October 2015: Trump says he would appoint his sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, to the Supreme Court – even though she has ruled in favor of partial birth abortion. As to overturning Roe v. Wade, Trump says, “you need a lot of Supreme Court justices, but we’re gonna be looking at that also very, very carefully,”
This week, Trump said that he would think about pick pro-choice former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown for his vice president. He has never said that he would ban all abortions except for his exceptions – he’s left vague how early he’d ban abortion.
Same-Sex Marriage. Trump says he’s anti-same sex marriage but that it’s the “law of the land.” In August, he said, “Some people have hopes of passing amendments, but it’s not going to happen. Congress can’t pass simple things, let alone that. So anybody that’s making that an issue is doing it for political reasons. The Supreme Court ruled on it.” In December 2014, he reportedly told gay activist George Takei that he’d gone to a same-sex wedding and found it “beautiful.” Trump did say that he didn’t think Kentucky court clerk Kim Davis should have been jailed.
Religious Freedom. Trump pledges to uphold religious freedom but has not commented on the Indiana Religious Freedom and Restoration Act or any other similar act protecting religious practice in the face of leftist non-discrimination laws designed to quash religious observance.
Entitlements. Unlike virtually all the other Republican candidates, Trump has said he wouldn’t touch entitlements. He says that any Republican attempts to touch these programs will end in electoral defeat. His website currently carries an article from The Daily Signal titled, “Why Trump Won’t Touch Your Entitlements.” He said then, “I’m not going to cut Social Security like every other Republican and I’m not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid. Every other Republican is going to cut, and even if they wouldn’t, they don’t know what to do because they don’t know where the money is. I do.” He bashed Paul Ryan’s plans for entitlements for being “too far out front with the issue.” Trump has, however, said that certain parts of Social Security could be moved to private accounts – although he then says that he will save Social Security without cuts by discovering magical barrels of money: “I know where to get the money from. Nobody else does.”
Campaign Finance Reform. Trump is for it, and he routinely attacks super PACs. Just last week, he said, “I think you need it.” He added, “Somebody gives them money, not anything wrong, just psychologically when they go to that person, they’re going to do it. They owe them. And by the way, they may therefore vote negatively toward the country. That’s not going to happen with me.” Campaign finance reform places outsized influence in the hands of the government and unions and quashes free speech.
Government Involvement In The Economy. Trump accuses Ted Cruz of being a Wall Street insider because his wife works for Goldman Sachs. Trump himself supported Obama’s 2009 stimulus, TARP, and the 2008 auto bailout. He said in 2009, “I think [Obama’s] doing very well. You do need stimulus and you do have to keep the banks alive.” He’s admitted over and over to paying elected officials to grease the skids on his deals – although, in fairness, he says that’s just how you have to work to get business done. In 2009, he said that the government should cap executive pay. Trump supported the Supreme Court’s egregious Kelo v. New London (2005) decision, in which the court absurdly declared that the government could seize private property and turn it over to another private party so long as the second party paid additional taxes on it. Trump explained, “I happen to agree with [the decision] 100%.”
Education. Trump opposes Common Core but has flip-flopped on whether he’d do away with the Department of Education; he told the South Carolina Tea Party last year that he wouldn’t dump them completely. “Certainly you could cut [that] way down,” Trump said, but added that he’d keep it alive for “coordination,” as Conservative Review points out.
Healthcare. Trump says he’d dump Obamacare but then praises the nationalized health care system of Canada and Great Britain. In 1999 and 2000 he endorsed nationalized health care openly; in 2015, he praised Scotland’s plan while appearing with David Letterman. He has proposed dumping restrictions on health care portability but continues to pump up nationalized health care systems. In September he told Hannity:
As far as single-payer and all — there’s so many different things you could have. Honestly, Sean, to do, to have great health insurance. The one thing I do tell people, we’re going to have something great. We’re going to repeal and replace Obamacare, which is a total disaster.
Tax Plan. Trump’s tax plan is certainly conservative. He proposes lowering the top tax bracket to 25 percent, drops the capital gains tax to 20 percent, dumps the death tax, and drops the corporate rate to 15 percent. The Tax Foundation states:
Our analysis finds that the plan would reduce federal revenues by $11.98 trillion over the next decade. However, it also would improve incentives to work and invest, which could increase gross domestic product (GDP) by 11 percent over the long term. This increase in GDP would translate into 6.5 percent higher wages and 5.3 million new full-time equivalent jobs. After accounting for increased incomes due to these factors, the plan would only reduce tax revenues by $10.14 trillion.
That’s different from his past positions on taxes, which include fighting the flat tax and proposing a wealth tax that would force owners to liquidate their property to pay taxes every year.
Trade. Trump is for international tariffs, including an extraordinarily heavy tariff on Chinese goods, in the mistaken belief that this somehow helps the American economy. Tariffs certainly benefit protected sectors, but they hurt American consumers and destroy American purchasing power. Trump also wants to leave mandatory union dues alone – or at least he hasn’t commented differently on the issue for several years.
Guns. Trump has become progressively more pro-Second Amendment over time. His website states: “The Second Amendment to our Constitution is clear. The right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed upon. Period.”
So, there you have it: Trump’s mixed record on conservatism, even at present, belies the notion that he sees eye-to-eye with the Tea Party. Actually, Trump is far more populist than conservative — which means he has appeal to blue-collar Democrats, but also that he may not reliably stand by conservative principles in office. In fact, given his repeated position switching, the safe bet is that anything he says today will changed based on convenience. That should not encourage any conservative thinking of Trump in the primaries.
Ben Shapiro is Senior Editor-At-Large of Breitbart News, Editor-in-Chief of DailyWire.com, and The New York Times bestselling author, most recently, of the book, The People vs. Barack Obama: The Criminal Case Against The Obama Administration (Threshold Editions, June 10, 2014). Follow Ben Shapiro on Twitter @benshapiro.