The conservatives who have declared war on the primary victor are displaying a myopia that could be deadly in November when Donald Trump will lead Republicans against a party that has divided the country, destroyed its borders, empowered its enemies, and put 93 million Americans into dependency on the state.
This reckless disregard for consequences is matched only by a blindness to what has made Trump the presumptive nominee. When he entered the Republican primaries a year ago, Trump was given no chance of surviving even the first contest, let alone becoming the Republican nominee. That was the view of all the experts, and especially those experts with the best records of prediction.
Trump — who had never held political office and had no experience in any political job — faced a field of sixteen tested political leaders, including nine governors and five senators from major states. Most of his political opponents were conservatives. During the primaries, several hundred million dollars were spent in negative campaign ads — nastier and more personal than in any Republican primary in memory. At least 60,000 of those ads were aimed at Trump, attacking him as a fraud, a corporate predator, a not-so-closet liberal, an ally of Hillary Clinton, indistinguishable from Barack Obama, an ignoramus, and too crass to be president (Bill Clinton, anyone?).
These negative ads were directed at Republican primary voters, a constituency well to the right of the party. These primary voters are a constituency that may be said to represent the heart of the conservative movement in America and are generally more politically engaged and informed than most Republican voters. Trump won their support. He won by millions of votes — more votes from this conservative heartland than any Republican in primary history. To describe Trump as ignorant — as so many Beltway intellectuals have — is merely to privilege book knowledge over real-world knowledge, not an especially wise way to judge political leaders.
A chorus of detractors has attempted to dismiss Trump’s political victory as representing a mere plurality of primary voters, but how many candidates have won outright majorities among a field of seventeen, or five, or even three? When the Republican primary contest was actually reduced to three, Trump beat the “true conservative,” Ted Cruz, with more than fifty percent of the votes. He did this in blue states and red states, in virtually all precincts and among all Republican demographics. He clinched the nomination by beating Cruz with an outright majority in conservative Indiana.
In opposing the clear choice of the Republican primary electorate, the “Never Trump” crowd is simply displaying their contempt for the most politically active Republican voters. This contempt was dramatically displayed during a CNN segment with Trump’s spokeswoman, Katrina Pierson, and Bill Kristol, the self-appointed guru of a Third Party movement whose only result can be to split the Republican ticket and provide Hillary with her best shot at the presidency.
Pierson urged Kristol to help unify the Party behind its presumptive nominee. Kristol grinned and answered her: “You want leaders to become followers.” Could there be a more arrogant response? By what authority does Bill Kristol regard himself as a leader? Trump has the confidence of millions of highly committed and generally conservative Republican voters. That makes him a leader. Who does Bill Kristol lead except a coterie of inside-the-Beltway foreign policy interventionists, who supported the fiasco in Libya that opened the door to al-Qaeda and ISIS?
I say this as someone who has written three books supporting the intervention in Iraq and who thinks Trump is dead wrong on this issue. However, I also understand that the Bush administration did not defend the war the Democrats sabotaged, allowing its critics to turn it into a bad war in the eyes of the American people. Consequently, Trump’s attack on the intervention is a smart political move that will allow him to win over many Democrat, Independent, and even conservative voters who think Iraq was a mistake and do not appreciate the necessity of that war or the tragedy of the Democrats’ opposition to it. You can’t reverse historical judgments in election year sound bites. Understanding this, instinctively or otherwise, makes Trump politically smarter than his Washington detractors.
Conservatives like Kristol claim to oppose Trump on principles but then turn to Mitt Romney for a Third Party run. This is the same Mitt Romney who, as governor of Massachusetts, was the father of Obamacare but ran against Obamacare in 2012. So much for principles.
“True conservatives” claim the Constitution as their Bible. But, as everybody knows, the first principle of that document is that the people are sovereign. The people’s voice, expressed at the ballot box, determines who leads. The “Never Trump” conservatives don’t respect this principle. What other conclusion can be drawn from their arrogant repudiation of a candidate whose authority derives from the expressed will of the people?
The Never Trump elites claim the voters are fools because Trump is “utterly unfit to be president by temperament, values and policy preferences.” This is the phrase used by Eliot A. Cohen a former Defense and State Department official in the Bush 41 and Bush 43 administrations. It is a sentiment common to most anti-Trump commentators.
But what can it possibly mean? During the first Republican debate, in front of a television audience of 17 million people, Jeb Bush took a pledge saying he would support whoever eventually won the Republican primaries. But as soon as the winner was declared, Bush reneged on his promise. Is telling the truth a presidential value? Or do the anti-Trumpers make allowances for politicians they support, cutting them slack that permits them to lie or change their minds when it is convenient to do so?
The anti-Trump crowd seems most concerned about the personal insults that Trump used successfully to defeat his formidable and more experienced rivals. Perhaps they are forgetting the hundred million dollars worth of personal insults and attacks that were directed at Marco Rubio and Trump by Bush’s PAC, which the candidate himself never repudiated. Is it their view that what is presidential is to have surrogates do your dirty work, while pretending to be innocent of the deed?
Trump has attempted to repair most of the insults he delivered by praising Cruz and Rubio and explaining that he was harsh on Bush because it was a competition and harsh things were being said about him in 60,000 negative ads. Moreover, he would consider some of the rivals he had previously bruised to be his running mate. Trump has shown a magnanimity in victory that his antagonists are unable to show in defeat. I would call that presidential.
What is it about those policy preferences that allegedly disqualify Trump? In his original statement on immigration, Trump should have said this: “I love Mexicans. I employ thousands of Mexicans. I want them to come here but I want them to come here legally. If America has no borders we have no country. Here’s the problem: Millions of Mexicans are not coming here legally. Among the illegals being smuggled across our borders are 550,000 criminals who have committed rape, murder, robbery, and felonies. This has to stop, and I’m going to stop it. I’m going to build a wall, and I’m going to make Mexico pay for it.”
Unfortunately, when Trump said words to this effect, he said them backwards. He began by saying Mexico is not sending its best people here, but sending rapists, murderers, drug dealers. It was only after that, he said they are also sending good people. I love Mexicans. I employ thousands of Mexicans. I want them to come here, but legally.
Now it’s understandable that Democrats bent on sabotaging our borders should twist his words and make him sound like an anti-Mexican nativist. That’s what Democrats do. But it’s disgraceful when Republicans echo them. Similarly, Donald Trump is not against free trade, but wants the so-called free trade to be fair. Neither is Trump in favor of banning Muslim immigration. He wants a moratorium on Muslim immigration until a screening system is put in place so that we don’t simply open our doors to Muslims from a Taliban- and al-Qaeda-supporting nation like Pakistan, who belong to terrorist mosques and lie about their home addresses like the San Bernardino shooters. Every conservative should support that, and no conservative should join Democrats in lying about Trump’s position and calling it a permanent ban on Muslims.
Will Trump live up to the conservative promises he has made? Will he build the wall, and defend this country, and give his best effort to putting America’s interests first and making America great again? If you believe that Donald Trump takes the Trump name seriously and wants to create a monument to his family and himself, it’s a good bet he will try to do just that. And Hillary won’t. She’ll do the opposite. And that is as much certainty about political outcomes as anyone in this life can expect.