Donald Trump’s Fatal Error Was to Take Conservatism Seriously
Poor Donald. The schmuck thinks conservatives mean it when they bitch and moan about abortion, immigration, and spending. The joke’s on him.
Poor, poor Donald Trump, that dumb, fake Republican.
He’s just not in on the joke—that conservatives really don’t mean what they bitch about all the time, whether they’re talking abortion, immigration, or reducing spending. That’s why his surprisingly successful insurgency is such an existential threat to the Grand Old Party. Precisely because he’s trying to pass, he’s going overboard and again and again and unmasking the massive contradictions and utter phoniness of conservative Republican ideology.
Hence, the flap he caused a week or so ago about abortion. If the Democrats are The Party of Death (as National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru once argued, at book-length), then we all know the Republicans are The Party of Life. Specifically, they are anti-abortion under all or nearly all circumstances, because abortion is murder, right?
So when MSNBC’s Chris Matthews asked Trump whether women should be punished for having abortions once Republicans succeed in prohibiting infanticide, the billionaire sensibly replied, “There has to be some form of punishment.” From the response by pro-lifers, you’d think Trump had, I don’t know, stuck with his extreme pro-choice positions circa 1999, when he endorsed even late-term abortions.
The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway, who does indeed believe abortion is murder, found no fewer than “4 Reasons Donald Trump’s Abortion Answer Was a Betrayal of Pro-Lifers.” Among other reasons, Hemingway quoted Charles Camosy, who argues that “Women, like their prenatal children, are victims of our horrific abortion policy.” Elsewhere, pro-lifers explained that the women who choose to terminate their pregnancies—even or especially the 89 percent who have abortions in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy—are “the second victims of abortion.” That’s more than a little odd to most of us, who assume that women who elect to have abortions think they are the primary beneficiaries of the procedure.
Trump, you fool, where did you ever get the self-evidently logical idea that calling abortion murder means that the women who demand abortions in any way, shape, or form should be punished? Worse still, you forced pro-lifers to publicly acknowledge what they usually only say amongst themselves: that women really don’t have moral agency when it comes to this form of murder. Like the juvenile delinquents in West Side Story, women are depraved on account of they’re deprived.
Then there’s immigration, which conservative Republicans say is “becoming a stand-in for conservatism in the same way” that abortion once was. About five minutes after Ronald Reagan granted “amnesty” (that is, legal status of varying degrees) to 3 million illegals back in 1986 by enthusiastically signing The Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), conservatives have been bitching and moaning about immigration in general and especially illegal immigration. “Amnesty=Suicide” is the purest distillation of this apocalyptic point of view that is widespread on the right. “What part of illegal don’t you understand, amigo?”
Here again, Trump is just trying too hard, like Gatsby wearing his silly suits and throwing his over-the-top parties. From the very start of his campaign, The Donald not only denounced immigrants, thereby gaining the attention of embittered, low-wage workers and presentable GOP heavyweights alike, he went his fellow Republican presidential hopefuls one better and finished their nativist thoughts by saying he was going to deport 12 million illegals and their 4 million kids (most of whom are actually U.S. citizens). “They’ve got to go!” he told Chuck Todd on his own private jet. “They’ve got to go!”
Even as Ted Cruz supporters claim that Trump filched the wall idea from the Texas senator, Cruz is more recently downplaying whether he will actually really send illegals packing and instead talking more vaguely about simply “controlling the border.”
And with good reason. According to Pew Research, deporting illegals is wildly unpopular. Indeed, only one-quarter of Republicans favor such a plan, while 56 percent favor some path to legal status. While there’s no question that there’s a chunk of angry voters showing up at Republican primaries (and haunting the halls of Congress), entrance and exit polls actually show that immigration is rarely among the top concerns for GOP voters, even in nativist strongholds such as Iowa. The more you talk about forcibly resettling 12 million people, the more plain it becomes that the GOP and conservatives would create an authoritarian state to root out and dispatch those sons of bitches who cut our grass, grill our chicken, and clean our hotels.
Ah, Donald—like Ziggy—will you ever win? It seems unlikely, because he hasn’t grokked the simple truth that Republicans like to complain about government waste and incompetence and spending, but the last thing they really want to do is change anything. Back when conservative Republicans controlled the White House and both houses of Congress, after all, they kicked out the jams on domestic and military spending without a second thought.
When it comes to national defense in particular, Trump has made the understandable rookie mistake of accepting the conservative axiom that government spends too much on everything. So, for instance, when he questions how much the United States still spends on NATO, his harshest critics come not from the internationalist left but from the militaristic right. Not only is the Cold War alliance “obsolete,” Trump says, but it’s a money pit for taxpayers. “We are protecting” European countries, he told a Wisconsin audience, “giving them military protection and other things, and they’re ripping off the United States…. Either they have to pay up for past deficiencies or they have to get out.”
You can understand Trump’s frustration: Like a good conservative, he attacks Europeans as the “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” conservatives have long called them and goes after good, old-fashioned government inefficiency. And he’s still treated as a pariah.
What’s a guy to do? Well, he might have taken a page from supposed budget-hawk Ted Cruz and talked a good game about cutting spending but then just call for unrestrained spending when it comes to defense. Indeed, Cruz has pushed for jacking defense spending by an extra $2.6 trillion over eight years! That’s conservative penny-pinching, Donald—get with the program.
Trump’s frustration is the nation’s insight, however. Every time he follows longstanding Republican logic to its reductio ad absurdum—remember when he suggested outsourcing the fight against ISIS to Russia, or called for bringing back Bush-era waterboarding?—he forces conservatives to reveal that they don’t really mean what they’ve been saying for years now. For that—and for showing that even a billionaire can possibly become the president of the United States—he deserves our thanks, if not our votes.