What’s more important: Conservative beliefs or conservative outcomes?
The two are not the same.
In American politics, the relationship between beliefs and outcomes isn’t necessarily causal, and for generations, this distinction has been the fatal flaw in the conservative movement – the poison arrow to our Myrmidonian heel.
It’s the reason why the conservative movement has failed to produce a more conservative country.
Consider: There have been 12 presidential elections since 1968, and the conservative candidate has won seven times. For nearly 50 years, we have a 58.3 percent winning advantage! Furthermore, the most-recent Republican president, George W. Bush, was also buoyed by a GOP-controlled House for six years and a GOP-controlled Senate for four-and-a-half years.
That’s ample opportunity to leave an elephant-sized imprint on the country. Uncle Sam’s right arm should be much larger than the left.
Yet when President Bush left office, the size of government had swelled to unfathomable new heights… as did debt, new regulations, red tape, cronyism, judicial activism and federal bloat.
That’s certainly not a conservative legacy.
Even when the Democrats commandeered the White House, the GOP mostly held its own in the legislative branch: Republicans controlled the House for six years and the Senate for two during Obama’s two terms; during Clinton’s two terms, Republicans controlled both the House and Senate for six years each. So we broke even with one and held a 75 percent edge over the other.
In our system of checks and balances, that ought to be a substantive check on a liberal executive.
But it sure hasn’t worked out that way.
On the contrary, the federal debt grew by $1.4 trillion under Bill Clinton, $6 trillion under George W. Bush, and then another $6 trillion under Barack Obama.
President Bush’s first budget was $2 trillion; President Obama’s 2016 budget was $4 trillion.
In other words, the size of government has literally doubled in an astonishingly short period of time… plus, the courts are more meddlesome, regulations are more onerous, and the culture is undeniably more liberal.
Feel the Bern: Socialism is rising and capitalism is falling.
By every conceivable metric, the conservative movement has been a complete and total failure.
Because conservative beliefs do not necessarily lead to conservative outcomes – and this is why the Trump candidacy represents a generational opportunity for conservative voters to finally achieve conservative results.
Beliefs matter, but tactics, leadership, media strategy and executive-level oversight matter as well, and that’s the strongest conservative argument for Donald Trump.
Purely by beliefs, Ted Cruz was the most conservative candidate for president – and by a Chris Christie-sized margin. Cruz exemplified the philosopher-king class of conservatism that purists adore: A man whose rhetoric and philosophy wholly resides within all the proper ideological checkmarks.
You name the conservative belief, and Ted Cruz marches in perfect lockstep with it.
But insofar as conservative outcomes in the Senate, Cruz was woefully devoid of accomplishments. Insofar as bending the ears of his colleagues to advance the conservative cause, Cruz was all mouth and no substance. Insofar as shrewdly crafting legislation that codified conservative principles, Cruz was a hapless failure.
If Cruz had cleverly outmaneuvered the non-conservatives in Congress with his strategic genius, that would’ve been enough to earn him the GOP presidential nomination – or at the very least, a much stronger argument for it. But alas, Cruz opted for legislative grandstanding over substantive achievement.
Reciting Dr. Seuss on the Senate floor did not lead to conservative outcomes.
Consider: Conservatism is more than an ideology; it’s a vehicle to achieve certain objectives. And when it comes to achieving these outcomes, management, oversight, and executive experience matter.
If it was just an ideology, then beliefs alone would suffice.
That’s because the United States government isn’t an abstract theoretical construct; it’s a brick-and-mortar political apparatus that exists in the realm of cause and effect. (What people like to call “the real world.”)
In other words, if your primary concern is rooted in reality, then what politicians theorize on the campaign trail is less important than what they’re capable of doing while in office.
Republican candidates say many wonderful things on the campaign trail. They have for decades! That’s not the cause of our dissatisfaction.
Our dissatisfaction is rooted in what they do when elected.
If conservatism was purely an academic exercise, then the “Never Trump” critics would be exactly right: Donald Trump isn’t a strong conservative. It’s been well-documented that Trump has shifted positions over time, and there have been many other nominees in recent memory whose ideology was more pure.
George W. Bush, for example. Mitt Romney too.
But Mitt Romney and George W. Bush didn’t leave a rich, sustainable legacy of conservative outcomes in their wake.
Bush’s two greatest legacies were the national response to the attacks of 9/11 (which includes the Iraq War) and sowing the seeds of President Obama’s first term. Romney’s two greatest legacies were his state-level advocacy of Obamacare/Romneycare while governor, and sowing the seeds of President Obama’s second term.
True conservatism is more than what you believe in a theoretical vacuum. Conservatism is also what you care about – what stirs your passions, what you’re willing to fight for – and most importantly, what you’re capable of implementing.
Theories are fine, but outcomes are what matters.
Pundits are vexed by Trump’s political success, but what has fueled his rise were five critical conclusions that his supporters had reached – and these conclusions weren’t unreasonable:
- Traditional conservatives have failed to implement conservative outcomes. Instead, things have gotten worse. And we’re tired of doubling-down on an unsuccessful paradigm.
- Most politicians are dishonest, incompetent and self-serving. They cave, “go native” and become coopted by the DC culture. And since they’re all going to cave anyway, doesn’t it make sense to support the candidate with the most extreme positions, since his/her acquiescing would sacrifice less ground?
- Donald Trump is demonstrably passionate about what he believes. On a visceral, emotional level, he “gets it” in a way that others do not.
- As a business executive who has succeeded in multiple arenas – real estate, sales, special events, marketing, books, licensing, media, etc. – Trump has a lifetime of experience in getting things done. It’s time for a warrior, not a philosopher.
- There’s a distinct possibility that an unattached outsider is better-suited to achieve certain outcomes than another byproduct of a dysfunctional political system.
The establishment media (including, unfortunately, the conservative media) portrays Trump as a smoke-and-mirror demagogue, wielding a Svengali-like hold over a gullible, “low-information” electorate, but I suspect the majority of Trump’s supporters harbor few illusions: Undoubtedly, Trump was a Machiavellian businessman for most of his career, singularly motivated by self-love and self-interest. His business life (and personal life) had many impressive peaks, and many cringe-worthy valleys. He’s extraordinarily wealthy, but not as wealthy as he claims. Trump is crass, vulgar and pompous, and it’s more unsettling than endearing for a 69-year-old man to initiate flame-wars on Twitter.
If space aliens landed on earth and asked to speak to the most moral man on the planet, the people wearing “Make America Great Again!” caps probably wouldn’t direct the space aliens to the top of Trump Tower.
But Trump also fights like hell for what he believes in. He understands how to market and sell a vast array of goods, concepts and services, and he’s demonstrated an uncanny knack for transforming our 24/7 media culture into his personal Ottoman cushion. He’s staked his most precious commodity – his reputation – on stopping illegal immigration, crushing ISIS, rebuilding the economy, streamlining the federal government, reining-in waste, promoting a conservative judiciary, diminishing the power of liberals, negotiating better agreements, and achieving conservative outcomes.
Question: If you’re an ideological conservative, would you prefer a chief executive who goes Medieval on his political opponents to achieve 75 percent of what you believe, or an unaccomplished philosopher-king who agrees with you 100 percent of the time, but lacks the skill-set to implement any of it?
Like many conservatives, my personal ideology overlapped with Cruz more than Trump. But it did concern me that Cruz completely lacked any executive experience and was almost entirely lacking business experience. For Cruz, capitalism was a philosophy, not a real-word application.
People like him exist in a world of ideas.
That’s laudable, but after the systematic gains of the left, it’s time for actions, not abstractions. And more than anything else, this is the fundamental appeal of Trump’s candidacy: It represents a generational opportunity for conservatives to stop being a theoretical movement, and finally become a vehicle for real, demonstrative change.
Ted Cruz is quite proficient at drawing within the boundaries established by other conservative philosophers. He’d be a wonderful jurist. But as a CEO or as a leader, his cupboard is bare.
By contrast, Donald Trump is a forward-thinking CEO who’s obsessed with outcomes: Shortly after graduating from the Wharton School of Business, he borrowed $1 million from his father, because he anticipated an opening in Manhattan high-end real estate. At the time, the “smart money” was fleeing the Big Apple and investing elsewhere. Almost immediately, Trump’s business instincts proved prescient: He repaid the loan while still in his 20s (with interest), and quickly established himself as one of the wealthiest, most successful entrepreneurs in America. Then he overreached: In the early 1990s, Trump came close to crashing and was forced to reinvent himself. And he did so by becoming the leading name in luxury real estate, a billionaire developer, a branding juggernaut, a TV star/executive producer, a multimillion-dollar seller of goods, special events and services, a bestselling author, and, today, a successful candidate at the highest level of government.
That’s an impressive list of substantive outcomes in a vast array of industries.
And to be fair, Trump’s philosophy isn’t exactly left-leaning: He’s pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, supports state’s rights, vows to slash government growth, backs a revamped military, and holds Antonin Scalia as his judicial model.
By any subjective standard, that’s a fairly conservative worldview.
Trump is not a philosopher-king conservative. He’s not a purist. Instead, he’s a mercurial, Machiavellian executive who sidesteps obstacles, cuts corners, manipulates loopholes, gouges eyeballs and leverages positional assets to achieve what he wants. His focus is on outcomes – on winning – not on ideology.
But if you agree with his outcomes, to quote Secretary Clinton, “What difference does it make?”
For conservatives – and for our country, which is rapidly approaching a tipping-point – it could make all the difference in the world.
It’s time for conservatives to consolidate for Trump.